'We are in new territory and England are in new territory too. It will be interesting'

Despite four defeats in a week, Australia's coach John Buchanan tells Angus Fraser that he is not worrying yet
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The Independent Online

When I texted John Buchanan at the end of last week, and invited the Australian coach out for dinner on Sunday evening, neither of us would have dreamt that our meeting would have such an unexpected backdrop. Comfortable victories over the PCA Masters XI and Leicestershire suggested that Australia were in decent working order, and the defeats to England and Somerset, while unwanted, could be explained.

Games of Twenty20 cricket are nothing more than a bit of slap and tickle, and Graeme Smith and Sanath Jayasuriya, who put on 197 in 22 overs when Somerset successfully chased 343 at Taunton, are two of the most destructive batsmen in world cricket.

But Saturday's astonishing five-wicket loss to Bangladesh in Cardiff, and the manner in which Kevin Pietersen annihilated the world champions in Bristol on Sunday, has left everyone who has watched Australian cricket closely for the last decade feeling rather confused.

Could we be witnessing the end of Australia's dominance, or is this just a temporary blip? Only the brave or the very stupid would write off Ricky Ponting's side after four games of one-day cricket, but only time will tell. Even so, Australia currently find themselves in a situation they have never been in before.

"I have not experienced anything like this with this particular team," Buchanan admitted. "We are in a situation we have never been in before. In the past when we have had a loss, the team has rebounded pretty quickly. But we are now in new territory and, I say this tongue in cheek, England are in new territory, too. It will be interesting to see how they deal with that.

"We will definitely come out of it and I think we will be better for the whole experience. The skill of the players is unquestionable, and they have not lost that in the last couple of months."

Buchanan has been the Australian coach for five and a half years. When he took over from Geoff Marsh in 1999 Australia were the best team in the world and under his guidance they improved.

The 52 year-old made his reputation by taking Queensland to their first Sheffield Shield title in 1994-95. His methods are different from most cricket coaches, in that he looks to challenge and develop those who work under him in areas other than cricket, but the system Buchanan installed in the "Sunshine State" has allowed Queensland to dominate domestic cricket in Australia for the past decade.

His success raised interest from counties in England and in 1998 the former first-class cricketer and teacher was invited to become Middlesex's coach. But his methods failed to get the backing of many of the club's senior players and after one season his contract was mutually terminated. Yet this did not prevent Cricket Australia signing Buchanan up when Marsh resigned after Australia had won the 1999 World Cup in England.

Buchanan is pretty unflappable and he will be looking to draw on the experience gained from unhappier times to get Australia back on track.

"The first thing I have to do with everyone is keep what is taking place in perspective," he said. "There is always a danger that you can over-analyse when things are not going well, and this can potentially lead to players not wanting to back their skill or their decision-making.

"You don't want the players thinking, 'I'd better not do this in case it leads to an error'. I would rather they had a go, because at least then they have made a decision. If it then goes wrong it comes down to execution or poor decision-making. But at least then you have something to work with, which is not the case when you make no decision at all.

"We also have to make sure that we don't get caught up in the emotion of what is going on. We have to concentrate on the process that has made us a good side.

"We need to be honest and make an honest assessment of what is happening. Everyone needs to check themselves and ensure they are doing all the little things they normally do. And I think that providing everybody can answer that pretty truthfully then it is only a matter of time before things turn around. Getting out of this is a challenge but it is one myself and the team are looking forward to."

When Australia arrived in England, Ponting mischievously stated that their itinerary was perfect, and the England and Wales Cricket Board had given them exactly the right amount of cricket before the first Test. It is questionable whether Ponting - or Buchanan - truly believed this but when the tabloid newspapers started criticising the ECB for bending over backwards it appeared as though the strategy had worked.

But the form of the Australian's show that it is they who have been caught out. While Michael Vaughan's side were gaining practice against Bangladesh Ponting and Co were relaxing in Australia.

"We may have lost today [Sunday] but I thought there were far more encouraging signs," said Buchanan. "We were up for the game, you could see that in the players' body language, and I hope it will be like this from now on. But I still believe that the performances are a result of us having a good break. Our skills at this moment in time are not bad but it has been the application of them in the one-day game that is the problem. And the one-day game asks questions of you straight away.

"To play good one-day cricket you need a good cricket base underneath you. We have some good training underneath us, but we have not got a lot of game-time. And this means that when the skills of the players are being tested it is difficult for them to grab the right menu. In the games we have played every player has grabbed a bit of the menu but as of yet they have not been able to grab the whole lot.

"And it is no coincidence that players like Mike Hussey and Simon Katich, who have been over here playing, are looking in much better touch than the others. From a bowling perspective it is about games and having miles under your belt. They need to get back into the rhythm of bowling. It is about landing your variety balls and making the right choices at the right times.

"It didn't start off that way against England, and it was unusual to see Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie bowling wides and no-balls in Bristol. Glenn, in the last 12 months, has started to swing the ball but whether he was right to try to do this immediately is debatable."

Australia's defeats have caused a maelstrom of interest here, and it has allowed the British media to poke a little fun. Some of it has been amusing and some slightly disrespectful, but having personally been on the receiving end of this from the Australian media it is difficult to have too much sympathy.

"This series has obviously been built up to be something pretty big because England are playing well and we have a very good side," said Buchanan. "We have come over here with a reputation, which is deserving, but we are not performing at the moment and England are on top. So why not stick it up the convicts?"