The Ashes 2005

Brace yourself, Australia won't panic

Following the heart-stopping at Edgbaston there is no reason for Australia to pull on life jackets

Peter English

August 9, 2005

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Ricky Ponting's response will be measured over the next three Tests © Getty Images
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Rule one in emergency situations is don't panic, but it is usually ignored in favour of screams and cold sweats. Following the heart-stopping at Edgbaston there is no reason for Australia to pull on life jackets. There was no disaster - one Test was lost, the series is level - and there won't be panic. At least from the team.

Since Michael Kasprowicz gloved Steve Harmison the reactions have varied as wildly as the tempo of the fabulous Test. As Old Trafford approaches like a landing plane, the sides' roles have stunningly reversed. Suffering a mini-crisis of excessive batting confidence and bowling injury, Australia can now understand the plight of touring teams Down Under. England are the ones monitoring with mirth.

The world champions are still waiting for chicken pox, but a squad that arrived full of energy and Ashes-winning expectation has suffered crucial blows to Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee. They have also experienced a stop-start warm-up campaign and feel a whole country - apart from the snake-bite swilling backpackers and green-and-gold-decked tour groups - is against them.

Since Mick Lewis and Shane Harwood helped out as net bowlers during training yesterday there was a clamour to mention any Australian bowler in England as possible putty for McGrath's ankle ligaments and Lee's knee. In the event, Stuart Clark, the New South Wales fast man filling in at Middlesex, was added to the squad as a precautionary measure. When in doubt they stand in all doors.

Ricky Ponting may have some pitch- and injury-enforced additions, but don't count on rash decisions. Like their inability to temper aggressive batting instincts over a change of innings, they've showed it's not in their culture. England's mark of 29 players in the '89 series is safe; Australia will be unlucky to reach 15.

Outwardly the side has been viewed for a decade as state-of-the-art frontrunners willing to push any laptop button for a quicker connection or run-rate. Behind the players is an occasionally ruthless, mostly conservative selection panel intent on gradual change rather than a spot of clear-felling. Ten men have debuted since Adam Gilchrist arrived in a flaying of arms and boundaries at the Gabba in 1999. Of those additions only Lee, Clarke and Katich have had extended runs while Hauritz, Symonds and Watson were condition specialists, and Williams and Bracken, like Clark, were injury cover.

Poor planning and a failure to deal with "what ifs" are not Australian soft spots. Their many options were mapped out months ago and the potential role-players told to practice their lines. Having picked a 16-man squad instead of the traditional 17 Trevor Hohns and his panel knew that if McGrath or Shane Warne were injured there was cover in Lee, Kasprowicz or MacGill. If more blankets were necessary they could look to the counties.

If Stuart MacGill joined Warne and an allrounder was required they would phone Hampshire and Shane Watson, who made his debut against Pakistan in an experimental line-up that is a possibility for Old Trafford on Thursday. When Clark headed to Middlesex last month to replace Scott Styris he was tagged as a player who potentially could fit the mould of McGrath, his sometime state team-mate.

The move is a style-for-style trade, although selecting Clark for a Test, which is still a few doctors' reports away, offers the same risk as giving Shaun Tait a debut. Both are untested and risking them in a match that could determine the series is a worst-case scenario, even with the form concerns of Kasprowicz and Jason Gillespie.

Slight adjustments of mind and outlook are required rather than adding a bunch of new faces. A great team that has changed the way the game is played has lost one match when fiercely challenged. The Edgbaston response will be measured over the next three Tests. Brace positions can wait.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo

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