Grace finds a new favourite

Stephen Brenkley talks to the player who even in defeat lit up Edgbaston
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The Independent Online
Greg Blewett looks like a choirboy and cover-drives like an angel. Watching him play some of his rasping, resplendent strokes off the front foot and pull effortlessly off the back it would be quite possible to believe you were in heaven.

This is a big claim to make for Edgbaston but for an hour or so on the ground last Sunday morning, Blewett assembled a sequence of shots which made it look positively celestial. It was pretty good bowling, it was majestic batting.

It was also somewhat overshadowed by the events which followed in the afternoon when Blewett and the rest of his colleagues were dismissed (he was caught off pad and back of bat at silly point) and Australia were, temporarily at least, vanquished. But England will not have forgotten the sight of the fresh-faced South Australian leaning forward almost insouciantly and piercing the off-side field with the ease of a fellow punching holes in a wet newspaper - and all with a troublesome left knee which needs rest to be cured.

"I thought England bowled really well throughout the game. There was always just a little bit in the pitch and I had to work very hard for my runs," Blewett said a few days later, thus confirming that appearances can be deceptive. The breathtaking panache of his 125 in Birmingham was matched by its statistical significance. It made him the first Australian to score hundreds in each of his first three Tests against England.

"Yeah, it's always nice to break records, though I didn't know about that one till it happened," he said. "It's difficult to beat that first hundred. It was my first match, it was on my home ground in Adelaide but maybe I played a bit better in this one." He has changed his approach slightly. He used to hit straighter, which meant running lots of threes and fours on the famously cigar-shaped Adelaide Oval, but he now drives squarer, as England can testify.

Blewett is 25 and was destined to be a cricketer. His father, Robert, was captain of South Australia, sometimes an outspoken one, in the Packer years and while he had to be content with only two first-class centuries of his own he passed on precious gifts to his son. It was dad, enthused Greg, who taught him his technique in the early years. He claimed, incidentally, to be working on rectifying a technical fault but would not reveal what it might be. Whether it is better to stroke four through extra cover or point presumably.

Blewett first came to England in 1991 with Young Australia, scored 164 in the second international and made serene progress thereafter. He compiled 571 runs in his first full season for South Australia as a 20-year-old, 834 in the second, 1,036 in the third. He also took wickets with his medium- pace seamers. Test elevation was part of the natural process.

It was only after his experiences against a tired England that the first kink appeared in this blessed ascent. Blewett went to the West Indies with Australia and, like almost every other batsman in the series, made few runs. Back home against Pakistan he failed again.

"I got bowled by Mushtaq Ahmed a couple of times and it was perceived that I had a weakness against spin. I didn't really think that was so, but anyway I wasn't making runs. I didn't feel my weakness was against spin but coming in and facing spin at the start of an innings. I'd batted high up in Sheffield Shield, either opening or at three, so it didn't usually apply. But I was going in at six for Australia and it did. I asked a few of the batsmen back in Adelaide about it and started practising by going into the spinners' net first just to try to get more acquainted with the idea."

He heeded the selectors' advice, went back into the Shield and scored bags of runs but he still needed a stroke of misfortune to be recalled. Last November, Steve Waugh was injured and for the Second Test against West Indies the selectors needed a batsman who could bowl. Blewett made 69 and an unbeaten 47, took a wicket and stayed. In South Africa in March he made an unforgettable 214 and shared a fifth-wicket partnership of 385 with Steve Waugh.

Blewett talks of the Waughs with respect bordering on hero worship. They have each both clearly given him plentiful and much-sought advice. Perhaps as a result, he thinks his approach to the game is somewhere between the pair, not quite as intense as Steve, not as relaxed, albeit deceptively, as Mark.

Blewett knows Australia are in a contest after the Texaco Trophy and the Birmingham Test. He has considerable respect for England's bowlers (Malcolm's pace, Gough's briskness and movement, Caddick's lift) but was also rightly eager to point out Australia's spirit.

"We like a challenge and it's not often that a side comes from 1-0 down to take the Ashes [England did in 1981], but we've had a talk and know we've got to start playing each session properly and not look too far ahead. There were some good things at Edgbaston."

One of the better things was his stand with his captain, Mark Taylor. "What a whinger he was," said Blewett. "He kept talking about how I was getting all the half-volleys and how he was getting all the good stuff." And he smiled a chorister's smile.

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