Vaughan's edge - a cunning plan

Strategies for each batsman and the bowlers' execution spark resurgence
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The Independent Online

The research into potential Australian frailty has gone much deeper than that. In each of the three matches so far their batsmen have been ensnared by England's bowlers, failing to avoid traps specifically set and carefully sprung. Inspired field placings, regular bowling changes and the wholly ruthless approach of England's captain, Michael Vaughan, have contrived to give the home side an authority that looked beyond them only 10 days ago.

There is an inevitable rider. Australia have not been world champions for so long without digging themselves out of holes from time to time. In Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, they still possess two champions but there is the unmistakable feeling that England, as they implied all along, are greater than the sum of their parts.

At the beginning of the series it was widely presumed that the key to taking 20 Australian wickets in at least three matches lay in the pace of Stephen Harmison and Andrew Flintoff. That still holds largely good. The pair are roughing up the tourists ball after ball, giving no quarter and prepared, without melodramatics, to deliver the short stuff that needs avoiding action or the tolerance of physical pain. It demands courage and technical excellence to withstand.

But Harmison and his pal have not been fighting a lone battle. This has been most obviously demonstrated during Australia's first innings of the Third Test but was also evident at Edgbaston. Both Simon Jones and Ashley Giles are playing significant roles in England's quest.

John Buchanan, Australia's coach, said as much after the second day. "It's bloody terrible from our point of view," he said. "Everyone talks about Harmison and Flintoff, and then you get these two rabbits who come on and take three wickets each."

Buchanan was being jocular, presumably on the grounds that if he did not laugh he would have cried. It was also a bit rich of him, considering that on the eve of the series he said unequivocally, as though nobody had guessed already, that his team would be targeting Giles.

Giles has responded quite magnificently having been prematurely written off after 11 innocuous overs at Lord's. Good for Giles, El Gileo, the King of Spain, so called after a batch of benefit mugs arrived bearing that inscription instead of the intended King of Spin. Unkind observers suggested that he had more chance of ascending Juan Carlos's throne than becoming regal in the slow bowling ranks.

But Giles has always been a tough competitor, the professional cricketer's professional cricketer. At Edgbaston and Old Trafford he has confounded the sceptics. Conditions have favoured him here but he seized the day by bowling accurately into the rough. He took three wickets - the ball that bowled Damien Martyn was a classic example of the left-arm spinner's art - and Australia were denied all opportunity to get after him. Giles's form and nerve allowed Vaughan in two innings in the last two Tests to rotate his seamers at the other end.

Jones has been masterful at times. His bellicose self-belief bespeaks a strong character and his grasp of reverse swing has given England a potent weapon. Jones is a different bowler when the ball is reversing, a man in command. His length and line instantly improve. He bristles.

Australia look at a loss how to cope, especially as Flintoff too now has the ploy at his disposal. Jones is reverse swinging the ball away, which, if not an entirely new concept, is unusual. In addition, Old Trafford is felt to be the best ground in England for the tactic. Twice he has taken wickets with the first ball after a break (a phenomenon, incidentally, that has occurred seven times in the series) and on Friday he had his best return to date by accounting for Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist and Michael Clarke.

There is a way to go but Vaughan has shown his mettle as a captain. He acts decisively and he acts quickly. The easy-going demeanour cannot hide the steel. Now he has got some runs - presumably he read the piece in this space last Sunday lamenting his lack of them and offering scant cause for optimism - his authority can only grow. They are looking for a captain for the Rest of the World to take on Australia in the one-off Test in October. England's captain is now in pole position.

Not everything that he does has been the object of applause. It rankles with some that England's hard-nosed approach allows little room for chivalry. But Vaughan is intent on refusing to allow any weakness of character to be exposed. It would also be stretching anybody's tolerance to listen to Australian complaints on this score.

Vaughan's captaincy stands in contrast to that of Ponting. In the field throughout Thursday it was noticeable that both Warne and Gilchrist had observations to make. This is appropriate because they are senior players but there is little to suggest that Ponting can make smart moves.

Not that he can be blamed for the dropping of catches and some weary out-cricket. That has been the biggest surprise. Australia do not look like Australia. The zest is missing. It may merely have been mislaid but Buchanan has to help them find it. When a team have won as relentlessly as Australia, the coaching trick goes beyond the technical (although Jason Gillespie could do with a hand) and into the motivational. Buchanan has succeeded in keeping them hungry so far.

After the resounding defeat at Lord's the present reversal of fortune is the more remarkable. No doubt, England did some hard thinking after it, but the gestation period was hurried on by Ponting's decision to field at Edgbaston.

It defied convention and sense and allowed England the opportunity to take control. That Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss did so in such emphatic style may have been the turning point. But the end of the match with England winning by two runs was also critical. Australia had lost a close one and it is now within the realms of the possible that they could lose the biggest prize itself.