View from Oz: Famous five the sign that Fletcher is trendy

However, on the evidence of Jones's partnership with Andrew Flintoff at Trent Bridge, one that added to the keeper's fairly handsome career record of sharing big partnerships, Fletcher is entitled to a tingle of self-satisfaction. Behind his back, there will be much teeth- gnashing from traditionalists in favour of graceful glovemen.

The Jones case, but more the sorry sight of a dishevelled Australia swinging in the breeze at Trent Bridge, invites debate about trends in the modern game. Suddenly we are hailing the revival of swing bowling and wondering at the inability of Australian batsmen to cope. And, if England nab the Ashes, will Australia's coaching and selection methods, so successful but so entrenched, change?

Often a trend flows from a tactic devised by an opponent, and aping it can be risky, because the tactic might be built around the talents of an individual or, in the case of the West Indies, a freakish production line of fast bowlers. That West Indian tactic of four fast bowlers - and for variation a batsman rolling down a few flat off-spinners - propagated slow over-rates, the mothballing of the glorious cover drive and battalions of medium-pacers coached to "hit the pitch hard".

The trend was to forget variety, a word usually associated with spin bowling; but pace bowlers have categories, too: fast, swing and seam. Nor is the valuable advice to "give the ball air" exclusive to spinners, as any fast bowler seeking to swing the ball will attest.

Any bad news in a trend can take a while to show up. In the past decade the classic copycat trend occurred in the limited-overs game, where Sri Lanka's Sanath Jayasuriya transposed the "happy hour" slog from the last 10 overs to the first 10. The rest of the world rushed to copy the tactic, and everywhere traditional opening batsmen, the brave rather than bold, were retrenched, even from Test cricket. In Australia, it not only spelt the end of Mark Taylor's limited-overs career, it dramatically split the Australian captaincy and for a while threatened to split the nation.

It is not far-fetched to think that Australia's "two left feet" approach to coping with England's kings of swing is the direct result of these two trends colliding and compromising batting footwork fundamentals during Australia's long winning run. Fast-medium pluggers serving up straight stuff to carefree aggres-sors refines a one-dimensional batting style which lacks the finesse to cope with a tactic as subtle as swing bowling.

That's the danger in the Jones tactic, too - future risk. Fletcher's raw message to all young keepers in England challenges best wicketkeeping practice: it's OK to fumble catches and stumpings so long as you can bat a bit.

An England victory could also spawn a healthy trend: the demand for five genuine bowlers. Around the world that's become as old-fashioned as swing bowling. The upside would be the development of more bowlers with batting talent. It's a pleasure to remember Imran Khan, Gar-field Sobers, Keith Miller and Ian Botham. Shane Warne's outstanding batting potential should not have been allowed to wallow. In another era, his peers would have collared him into the top six.

Who knows, Gilchrist may still be offered the No 6 spot for the Oval Test where, if the Ashes are on the line, Australia will be forced to stir from their selection straitjacket and play another strike bowler.

In the great plan of things, these trends might merely be cycles. In 1989 England were expected to retain the Ashes but lost them to an Australian team inspired by Terry Alderman's swing bowling. Is that an omen for England, or an invitation to ask the Australian management what happened to the swing bowling development programme?

Another cycle of Australian domination ended in 1948. The almighty Bradman turned 40 on 27 August, the last day of the match against Gentlemen Of England. The match report noted: "Bradman today is inevitably slower to judge the length of the ball than in his youth." Now that is an omen.

As usual, Bradman's birth-day was celebrated in Bowral, his old home-town. Predict-ably, the sentiment was: "If only we had a Bradman to save us at Trent Bridge".

Very romantic, but unrealistic. Concerned Australian cricket followers should hope those cricket-smart coaches Rod Marsh and Troy Cooley will soon be available to do with a faltering Australia what they have done with England.

Comments