Peter Roebuck: The locals have been outclassed, the teacher has become the pupil

The Australian angle

Wednesday 29 December 2010 01:00

England deserve enormous credit for the sustained excellence of their cricket in this series. Watching them has given pleasure to all save the most one-eyed observer, a breed not unknown in either nation.

It has been a team without heroes or egos, a hard-working, tough, thoughtful and committed outfit that has avoided bleating and inexorably crushed a shaky opponent.

Andrew Strauss's side has been a cut above the glamorous Pommy outfits seen in the 1980s, an era whose failings were hidden by the emergence of a handful of gifted players. That was a time of rebel tours and dissolution, cynical domestic exchanges, lazy champions and false prophets. It's taken a long time and a lot of hard work and several African coaches, but finally England have regained the grit that was for so many decades their hallmark.

Now it is Australia's turn to reflect upon their failings. Except in Perth, Ricky Ponting's side have been outclassed. Nor can locals be confident that the pain will be short-lived. By the look of things the malaise is widespread. English counties are not seeking Australians with quite the old urgency.

Australia can begin a revival by acknowledging the superiority of the well-drilled touring team, superiority evident as much off the field as on it. The teacher has become the pupil. Strauss's side have taught the locals many lessons, not least in the attention they pay to detail.

A long list can be provided of areas in which England have surpassed their hosts. None of the tourists has carried any extra baggage. Contrastingly, a local speedster has "hit the wall" and another paceman has broken down in the middle of the match. Young pacemen are regularly in dry dock. That Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey are the fittest players in the Australia side tells the story.

England's work in the outer has been athletic and alert. It's hard to recall a modern Australia side being outrun by any touring team, let alone by traditionally heavy-footed Poms. Strauss's outfit had no weak links, no Phil Tufnell or Eddie Hemmings, to provoke caustic comment. Everything, too, has been rehearsed, including the relays and flick-backs. No stone was left unturned.

England's selectors have been the more astute. The touring party was carefully chosen and each player was assigned a role. Steve Finn's stack of wickets in Brisbane alone denied Ajmal Shahzad an opportunity on an Adelaide track that suits his skidders. Tim Bresnan's mastery of reverse swing secured him a place at the MCG, whose scarred surface of course assisted the practice. The hosts often looked amateurish in comparison.

Strauss has had a tactical edge. Graham Swann went around the wicket to remove Michael Clarke yesterday and the catch was taken at a second slip stationed in anticipation of exactly that error. Hussey was held at short cover placed especially for him. Shane Watson's best shot had been blocked by a deep and straight mid-on. It's been the case all summer. England have played a fine leg much wider than usual, thereby saving a fieldsman.

England's batsmen have given their opponents object lessons in occupation and concentration. Throughout, the basics have been respected. Alastair Cook does not have many shots but he waits upon chances to play them and executes with precision. Jonathan Trott's application did not flag in his eight hours at the crease. None of the locals looks as solid. Some of them resemble flibbertigibbets.

The Pommy bowlers revealed skills beyond their counterparts. Jimmy Anderson swung the new ball sharply while Bresnan and Chris Tremlett moved the old ball. All of them kept a full length. Swann was modest enough to produce a containing spell as requested and wise enough to adjust his pace to suit the MCG pitch. His faster, flatter deliveries worried every batsman.

Clearly, David Saker, the bowling coach, knows his biscuits. Andy Flower was another fine appointment. Whether England can manage without an African coach remains to be seen.

Contrastingly, Ponting's ill-chosen team have floundered. Cricket captains tend to get an excess of credit and blame. He will come under scrutiny but the think tank cannot escape examination: coaches, chairmen and selectors can make a captain's job easier or a great deal more difficult.

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