Liberated England turn the tables
When, in the aftermath of another one-sided contest, it was put to Ricky Ponting that England are now one victory away from being able to claim bragging rights in all three forms of international cricket, he bridled with the sort of indignity which suggested that the question was not as preposterous as it might have sounded six months ago. Much like the purported "rivalry" between England and Germany in football, the stats may not stack up when viewed in the fullness of time, but that has never prevented the here and now from assuming the most relevance.
And right here, right now, England are hurtling towards the sort of ascendancy that looked inconceivable while Australia cruising to their 6-1 ODI triumph nine months ago. "We've only got ourselves to blame for the hole we're in at the moment," said Ponting after the match, but he was being disingenuous. With their liberated array of strokemaking batsmen, allied to a canny bowling attack with a priceless ability to think on the hoof, England have got the measure of the Aussies in this series, and it will take an incredible (and dare one say it, inconceivable?) collapse of resolve for a 2-0 deficit to be overturned in the remaining three fixtures.
"Australia have had a very good 12 months or so, and they played well against us last summer, but ultimately that was last summer," said England's captain, Andrew Strauss. "Times have moved on, and I'm happy with where we are as a side at the moment. Ultimately, this series will be decided in five games not two, but that 6-1 defeat is still fresh in our minds, so we want revenge for that if we can."
There are a myriad of mitigating circumstances that will prevent England from claiming full satisfaction in the event of a series victory - not least the fact that Australia's attack is down to the barest of bones, with Ryan Harris, their quickest bowler at the Rose Bowl, joining an injury list that already includes the likes of Mitchell Johnson, Ben Hilfenhaus, Peter Siddle and Brett Lee. But, whereas the first match was all about the batting exploits of Eoin Morgan, the Cardiff fixture showcased the second crucial string to England's bow. Namely they are developing an extremely intelligent attack.
Admittedly, it didn't look too clever when James Anderson was clattered for 13 runs in the opening over of the match, and at 34 for 0 after five, Australia had a platform from which they might realistically have expected to set a minimum target of 280. But then up stepped Stuart Broad, celebrating his 24th birthday, and brimming with enthusiasm after his enforced absence from the Bangladesh series. In tandem with Luke Wright, another man whose confidence and tactical awareness has surged through his involvement in the Twenty20 set-up, he set about stifling the momentum of Australia's top-order.
"The most pleasing thing was the way we adapted as a bowling unit," said Broad. "I think the first couple of overs didn't go to plan, but we communicated about the best ways to go, and we tried to bowl as straight as possible because players thrive on a bit of width these days. We used cross seamers pretty much straightaway today, because there was no swing, and that aided us with a bit of extra bounce and a bit more skiddiness.
"The communication side of things is massive in Twenty20s," Broad added. "It's such a short form of the game, you have to be speaking virtually every ball because one ball can win or lose you the game. That was all that was in our minds, as long as we didn't give any width, and that helped us claw it back to a decent score after 20 overs."
Ponting, for his part, conceded that England's tactics had been pretty smart. "They probably bowled 80 or 90% of their balls across the seam, and got the ball to leap from those deliveries," he said. "I think they just adapted really well. It's a good skill to be able to do that, and they put us under pressure. From 4 for 90, it's hard to fight back into the game."
The ability to think on one's feet is one thing - and Broad himself has long been credited, not least by his first Test captain, Michael Vaughan, as an intelligent cricketer. Having the confidence to put such plans into action, however, requires an extra veneer that is rapidly becoming the hallmark of this England outfit. And Strauss, whose own freeflowing half-century was a vital factor in the final result, credited the lesson he and his team had been handed by the Australians last September for transforming their outlook on one-day cricket.
"When we got beaten by Australia last summer, that was an eye-opener," he said. "We'd been playing okay up until then but it made us realise that what we were doing was not good enough and we had to find a way of being better. We came out to the Champions Trophy [in South Africa] and tried to play a more fearless type of cricket, but as well as being fearless and aggressive, it is very, very important that we are calculated as well. In the field we've been far better, the communication is better and the gameplan is clearer. We've stifled Australia with the ball and that's been as important as anything.
"It's always important to learn from your mistakes," he added. "You learn more about a side when you're losing than when you're winning, so in that respect [last year's beating] was a good thing. For those of us who went through it, it was pretty horrendous, but what's been good is that everyone realised we had to do things differently, and a lot of people have been putting in suggestions about where we can take things from here on in. It's very encouraging, and we all feel like we are part of something that can grow, and grow, and grow."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.