Why Australia crave real contest to stoke the fires

Much as Australians love winning, they are starting to grumble that doing so in Test cricket is getting just a little too easy. The Aussies completed a 3-0 series win over a hapless Pakistan last week, following an equally one-sided pair of Tests against New Zealand. In those five games, only once were they taken into a final day.

Even the most partisan are starting to feel short-changed. One caller to a local radio station on what should have been the fifth day of the Sydney Test had done his homework. He calculated that there should have been 2,250 overs in the five Tests; in fact, Australia needed just 1,584 to underline their superiority, leaving supporters short of seven days of cricket. "We're being dudded," said the caller - and he was only half-joking.

The fear is that even their own fans could start to lose interest if this degree of dominance carries on. There were just over 113,000 at the four days at the SCG - the worst attendance since 2000. There was a full house on the first day and something close to one on the second, but the feeling was that it was the event and the tradition of the New Year's Test in Sydney that was pulling in the punters, not any expectation of a real contest.

There were compensations, like seeing a Test match dominated by leg spin in a way which no other in the modern era has been. Not only were Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill operating from opposite ends for much of the time, but Pakistan frequently did the same with Danish Kaneria and Shahid Afridi.

Kaneria was particularly impressive, especially when he engineered three stumpings in a row as part of his 7 for 188 in the first innings, during which he also lost his match fee for sledging.

The other highlights were all Australian. Adam Gilchrist's century at almost a run a ball was mayhem even by his standards, and Ricky Ponting's fourth Test double-century was a huge psycho-logical milestone for the Australian captain. Ponting had not topped a hundred since taking the helm, and went the whole of 2004 without a Test century.

Ponting will not have it that his team could get bored with winning so easily. If they are not stretched by the opposition, he says, they will find their own motivation. "It's up to individuals to improve their own games," says a captain who is "pretty hard" on his players. "One of the great strengths of this team is that there is not one person who's happy with what they've done and what they are. If we keep that attitude, there's no reason why we can't improve further."

Ponting does not even believe that Australia have played consistently well this summer. "We have played some very good cricket and some that probably hasn't been our absolute best," he says. "But when we get into trouble we turn it around pretty quickly. We've done that in both these series this summer."

There is little respite for a squad that their coach, John Buchanan, describes as "jaded" after their recent workload. After a week off, they start a one-day tournament against West Indies and Pakistan, followed by two Tests in New Zealand.

But thoughts are already turning to July and to the question of whether England could be the side to halt the remorseless march of the Aussies. "As a professional cricketer, you keep a close eye on what's going on around the world," Ponting admits. "England have played some great cricket and they are a good side. They know that. It's going to be a huge series, the biggest Ashes series for a long time, and all our guys are already talking about it in that way."

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