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June 29, 2010
Australia have never been whitewashed 5-0 in any format, but Shane Watson insists there have been no crisis meetings as the prospect of being held winless by England looms. However, he does believe the visitors have been caught underprepared after taking a month off following their return home from the ICC World Twenty20.
England took the series with their victory at Old Trafford and at The Oval on Wednesday they could bring the scoreline to 4-0, tantalisingly close to a clean sweep with one match to play at Lord's. Adding to the psychological challenge for the Australians is the return to The Oval, where last year's Ashes defeat was decided, but Watson said the captain Ricky Ponting had kept a cool head over the past few days.
"It hasn't been fire and brimstone," Watson said of Ponting's approach. "We've just talked about the things we can continue to develop and get exactly where we want to. We know as a group we've been slightly below par.
"There's no need to have big crisis meetings and that sort of thing. We are a continually developing group and we have had a bit of time off. The majority of us made the most of it, because we haven't had three weeks off for quite a while. We've made the most of our time off but we've been caught a little bit short here, I think."
The key for Australia to regain some pride in the remaining two games is an improvement in their batting. Their totals have steadily dropped away as the series has progressed - 267 in Southampton, 239 in Cardiff and 212 at Old Trafford - and it has left their undermanned attack repeatedly fighting losing battles.
Watson has been comfortably Australia's best batsman, with two half-centuries and 150 runs, leaving him second only to Eoin Morgan in the series tally. However, he has struggled to push on after reaching fifty when a big hundred could set up an Australian win, and he said switching back to the 50-over version after the World Twenty20 had been a challenge.
"I wouldn't think it's the pressure being built up, because so far I feel I've been able to release that pressure pretty well throughout an innings," Watson said. "It's more a concentration thing, to be able to make sure I give myself a little bit more time.
"There is an adjustment going from Twenty20 cricket to one-day cricket, so I've got to continue to remind myself there's a lot more time in the game. On the opposite side of that, Twenty20 is a thing where you keep going no matter what."
However, the England squad has been more adept at changing formats, having beaten Australia in the World Twenty20 final. It has been a stark turnaround from last year, when Australia thrashed England 6-1 in the ODI series that followed the Ashes and then knocked them out in the Champions Trophy semi-final, but Watson said the 3-0 scoreline was not a great shock to the Australians.
"I'm not surprised, no," Watson said. "I've seen it from afar and also from the Twenty20 World Cup, they've continued to improve as a group and got some guys into the team who are making a big difference. Kevin Pietersen was sorely missed for them during that one-day series we played here and during the Champions Trophy.
"He adds a world-class batsman at the top of the order. That's definitely something that has made a big difference. We knew we were going to be hit very hard by the English, because they're continuing to develop as a very good international team in all forms of the game."
The Australians are likely to stick with their scratchy batting unit, with no room for Shaun Marsh to squeeze into the side. Josh Hazlewood might come into calculations if The Oval pitch provides some bounce, while all eyes will be on Shaun Tait to see how he backs up following his strong return to ODI cricket.
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