Flawed flowers of youth

The graduates of Australia's academy failed to convince Martin Johnson
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The Independent Online
Every time England receive their ritual stuffing at the hands of Australia, people shake their heads and say: "ah, if only we had something like their Cricket Academy." However, after two days at Leicester watching the flower of Australian youth, you would be hard pressed to suggest that the fabled Adelaide finishing school offers any greater educational input than the Lower Fifth at St Trinian's.

However, Leicestershire are no strangers either to schoolgirl cricket, and having been left with only 44 to win in their second innings, they slumped to 36 for 6 on a slightly uneven pitch before squeaking past the winning post.

The nadir of England's last Ashes tour was two horribly one-sided defeats in a single weekend by the Academy boys, followed by elimination from the one-day tournament at the hands of an Australian A side containing several of the players currently touring this country under a Young Australia banner.

The tourists arrived at Grace Road with a record of three wins and two draws from their five matches, but if the last two days are a vision of the Ashes future, then England can put away the dark glasses.

To arrange any kind of four-day match for Grace Road nowadays is a triumph of optimism over experience, and having already had to postpone their old players' day once this season (when Warwickshire won in two days) Leicestershire would have had to do so again had the Australians not agreed to a 40-over beer match today.

Australian sides are usually highly disciplined in all areas of their cricket, including being objectionable. One suspects that a large part of the Academy agenda involves honing key phrases such as: "pavilion's that way yer Pommy bastard", and body language is clearly important too. Such as when your middle stump has been plucked out, merely take guard for the next ball, and give the umpire a withering look if for some strange reason he happens to give you out.

Leicestershire's players confirmed that this part of the Australians' game has been working well over the past couple of days, and they may well be reported for a clear outbreak of dissent when claiming a catch when the home team were 40 for 6.

Their cricket was not very disciplined either, especially the batting and fielding, but there is no doubt that they have plenty of ability. Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer and Stuart Law are all class performers, and only the awesome strength of the current Australian batting side has conspired to keep them waiting - Ponting especially - for a regular place.

Hearteningly, however, they are even more bare in the bowling cupboard than England. Jo Angel, Mike Kasprowicz, and Shane George have all failed to convert their youthful promise, and the only spinner of note on this tour is the distinctly ordinary 29-year-old leggie Peter McIntyre.

Yesterday, having conceded a first-innings lead of 103, Young Australia were bowled out for 146 by Leicestershire's two left-arm seamers, Alamgir Sheriyar, Birmingham-born of Afghanistani parents, and Alan Mullally, a Southend-born Australian whose ambitions to play for England predictably led to some interesting dialogue between opponents with similar accents.

Sheriyar's career-best 6 for 30 (match figures 10 for 85) were well deserved, but he will have harder afternoons against less obliging opposition than he did yesterday. Having all grown goatie beards (some kind of bonding ritual, presumably) the Australians showed a marked reluctance to hang around and graze.

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