'We're expecting an Aussie backlash'

Strauss plays a cautiously straight bat as Ponting talks like a man about to level Ashes at 1-1.
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The Independent Online

England are behaving as though they expect Australia to come back in the Ashes. Australia are acting as if they know darned well that is exactly what will happen.

The eight days that have passed since the home team's glorious win on the tourists' own turf at Lord's – did anybody mention that 75 years had passed since England had beaten Australia there in a Test match? – have been fascinating for the observance of perspective.

Almost from the moment that Graeme Swann secured the 115-run victory by bowling Mitchell Johnson, England have been cautious to the point of irritation and timidity. True, a few of the chaps went out and got hammered after the result but that was much as relief at the end of a gruelling five days as celebration.

The words for public consumption – and they will not be much different in private – are embodied alike by coach Andy Flower and captain Andrew Strauss. The day after the rousing events at Lord's, Flower said soberly: "We know that they will regroup and come back strongly at us. We have also got to regroup." Yesterday Strauss said: "We are fully expecting an Aussie backlash and we expect this Test match to be harder to play than the other two."

All with good reason no doubt because the Australians tend to keep coming. More than half a century ago at Adelaide, England needed a mere 95 to win the match and Ashes but Australia reduced them to 18 for 3. "Oh, no," said the forlorn England captain Len Hutton as he watched, "they're going to do us again." England clung on for a famous triumph but the years have done nothing to quell the worst fears.

But then listen to Ricky Ponting, Australia's captain, yesterday and he is talking like man who expects to be 1-1 any day. Indeed, were you not to know England are in the lead it might be assumed, looking at what he has to say, that this is some kind of aberration. On the one hand, Ponting said that expected Pietersen to be a massive loss – "he's the X-factor in their side, the ability he has to put bowlers on the back foot." On the other, he thought that Pietersen was one of the batsmen on whom the Australian bowlers had been able to exert the most pressure.

England have been forced to make one change because of Pietersen's Achilles surgery, Australia seem determined to avoid having change thrust upon them. This means that though England have replaced their best batsman with another who averages above 40 in Test cricket and is two years younger, the tourists are refusing to countenance the dropping of Phillip Hughes and Johnson.

Of course, England cannot be perfectly happy but Australia are taking loyalty to a stubborn degree. Johnson again looked out of sorts at Northampton over the weekend according to observers and although Hughes made a second-innings half century he was dismissed twice by the unsung David Wigley.

If Australia are not in denial, it is almost as if it has not quite begun to dawn that they are 1-0 down and that to pull back the deficit they must be much more ruthless than they have been hitherto. Having controlled the first match in Cardiff for most of its last four days they lost the hammer with only one nail to knock down.

They had shed a few other weapons as well by the time they got to Lord's and it is Australia who have most of the worrying to do. They will be worried at their failure to close down proceedings in Cardiff and that they could not come back into them sufficiently at Lord's. And if they are not worried, then England should not worry about that either.

Ponting, candid as he is, never fails to answer a question about an England player. If he is being helpful for most of the time he also often manages to have a small but telling barb. Such as Bell being "a nervous sort of bloke". Not much more than many others, not much more than Ricky himself at the start of an innings. Ask Strauss about Johnson and he would say it was no concern of his. Indeed, yesterday he was asked and that is exactly what he said.

Let Australia do the concern for everybody.