August 4, 2009

Are you England in disguise?

The 2009 Aussies have not just been a pale shadow of their brilliant predecessors - they're so pale, they have a distinctly Pommie tinge

Edgbaston is the English cricket ground that is most like a football ground, with many of the good and bad points that entails - lively atmosphere, plentiful home wins, blinkered fans, and (when I was there on Friday) sexist comments and prehistoric food. During this Test the England fans were singing like football supporters. At one point they came out with a twist on the football fans' favourite form of derision - "Are you [some despised team, often Tottenham] in disguise?" The Edgbaston version was "Are you Scotland in disguise?" Which was quite funny, but hardly accurate. The 2009 Aussies are closer to being England in disguise. They have not just been a pale shadow of their brilliant predecessors - they're so pale, they have a distinctly Pommie tinge. Here are eight ways in which Australia appear to be the new England.

1. They're losing…
Australia are now 0-1 down after three Tests. The role of arriving in the latter stages of an Ashes series without a win normally belongs to England. Even when Australian touring teams end up losing a series in England, they tend to get an early win under their belts: they were 1-0 up in 2005 and 1981, and 1-1 in 1985. Now they find themselves in the boat they were in in 1986-87, one down with two to play. It means England are one win from glory, and on that occasion they duly achieved it.

2. …or drawing
The Aussies have not been a drawing team for a long time. They have drawn only 17 Tests this decade out of 109. In England in three series in 1993-2001, they drew only two Tests out of 17. But they have now drawn four of their last six in England, stretching back to Old Trafford 2005.

3. They're being humiliated by the home fans
To be an Englishman fielding on the boundary in Australia has long meant copping an earful of abuse, or worse. Now England fans are dishing it out too. This can be amusing, as when the Barmy Army decided that Mitchell Johnson was such a plus for England that he should be showered in applause and awarded his own chant. Or it can be ugly, as when Ricky Ponting, one of the best batsmen of all time, was booed all the way to the crease. Let's hope it was the beer talking: the idea that this is how cricket fans now behave is too depressing to contemplate.

4. They dropped a player after two bad Tests
Phil Hughes' demotion was a shock, and not just because it leaked out on Twitter. Yes, England had worked him out, but he had failed only twice, arguably three times (making 36, 4 and 17), and the Aussie selectors had gone from showing total faith in him, by not even bothering to send along a reserve opener, to showing none. This used to be the English disease. It caused Graham Gooch to spend three years in the wilderness after his early taste of Test cricket in 1975; 18 years later, just as Gooch was bowing out as captain, it led to Mark Lathwell beginning a descent that went from young England opener to retired and disillusioned, in the space of eight years. Let's hope Hughes is closer to a Gooch than a Lathwell, though not too close for England's sake. England, ironically, have now gone a bit too far the other way, and look unlikely to give Ravi Bopara or Stuart Broad a rest, even though neither has pulled his weight.

After searching long and hard, Australia have finally found their answer to Alan Mullally, Martin Bicknell, Devon Malcolm and Robert Croft

5. They're collapsible
Australia lost the second Test not, Ponting felt, because they made a poor start with the ball, though that didn't help - they recovered well from there and kept England's total to a less-than-daunting 425. They lost because they were shot out for 215 in reply. The third Test followed a similar pattern: they were in danger of losing, despite all the rain, because they were all out for 263. Each time they started perfectly respectably, and then went down like a pack of Poms: from 103 for 2 to 152 for 8 at Lord's, and from 163 for 3 to 203 for 8 at Edgbaston.

6. They play well after first playing badly
This has been the defining trait of recent England teams, and now it has spread to Australia. They bowled well at Lord's only after bowling badly for two sessions. They batted well in the second innings of both these last two Tests, but only after crumbling in the first. England haven't entirely shaken the habit either: they flourished at Edgbaston partly because the Thursday was so truncated that their usual first-day shocker was kept to manageable proportions.

7. They've made a huge score without winning
The one time Australia batted well in the first innings, they were superb, rattling up 674 for 6 at Cardiff. But they couldn't close the deal, letting their opponents escape by the skin of their teeth - just like England in Antigua and Port-of-Spain this year. By not winning, they surrendered momentum, which allowed England to bounce back at Lord's. The same, of course, may be true in reverse now.

8. Their bowling is modest
A left-arm seamer who sprays it around, a wholehearted swinger who bowls tidy long spells, a quick with decent pace but not many wickets to show for it, and an amiable finger spinner who likes to pitch well outside off: yes, after searching long and hard, Australia have finally found their answer to Alan Mullally, Martin Bicknell, Devon Malcolm and Robert Croft.

Tim de Lisle is the editor of Intelligent Life magazine and a former editor of Wisden

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ganesh on August 5, 2009, 17:17 GMT

    NickVegas...buddy, get your facts right...I think Indians have kicked Aussies backside a whole lot of times, than Poms & Springboks put together in the last decade and a half, so be rest assured we would continue to do that in the future as well. Just in case, if you still have doubts...check these stats out...during 1995 & 2009 there have been 8 Border/Gavaskar series...26 tests in all..6 drawn..10 won by India and 10 won by Aussies. So I think, if at all somebody is enjoying the fact that Aussies have come down in terms of their cricket, I think it is Poms & Springboks and not us!!! Unlike others we have been beating Aussies ever since they had the quality of Waugh bros, Warne, Mcgrath, Martyn, Haydos, something tells me we would continue to beat Aussies but may be not enjoy it anymore since you guys don't have the same quality but hey thats not our headache...:)

  • Peter on August 5, 2009, 10:41 GMT

    I think that it is also arguable that a subset of the Australian fans could be accused of being England fans in disguise. It seems that the whinging Pom has morphed into the whinging Ocker all too easily. Perhaps our cultures are not as dissimilar as they are sometimes made out to be.

    Also the argument that Australia would have been in a great position if it had not rained so much at Edgbaston is specious. No less a person than Ricky Ponting debunked it. England would not have played the way they did in their 1st innings in different circumstances, neither would have Australia in their 2nd. Anyone who argues otherwise has no understanding of the undercurrents of the game.

    Overall, in 2005 we were enthralled by two teams at the top of their game battling it out (albeit with Australia missing one of their greatest gladiators twice). 2009 is more about two lesser, but reasonably well-matched teams both struggling with their own inadequacies. Less quality, but still some drama.

  • Vikas on August 5, 2009, 10:09 GMT

    Hmmm...Aussie v/s Poms relationship signified by this quote by an annonymous writer "The high standards of Australians are due to the fact that their ancestors were all handpicked by the best english judges"

  • TOM on August 5, 2009, 2:49 GMT

    Well Tim, this is just part of the war of words and with your tongue firmly planted in your cheek as well. As some have pointed out, England bowling stocks are reliant on swing conditions. Now, Freddie is gone gone gone! Apart from a really good spell in one innings, he has taken 1 for, 1 for, 0 for and 0 for. Swann has taken 6 wickets. On the other hand, Johnson has been hopeless, hasn't he? but did I mention he has 10 wickets and Hauritz also 10 wickets. In fact the stats show Australia ahead in batting and bowling - you must be giggling at this (1-0 up for the Poms). No, clearly Australia's first innings in test 2 and 3 have been the problem. Just watch out as Johnson finds his timing, Siddle tightens up and the rookies find consistently. Also, I like an angry skipper, so Ricky can snarl all day just as "Grumpy" Allan Border did, as far as I'm concerned. Aus 2-1

  • Troy on August 5, 2009, 2:42 GMT

    Tim, you really are stating the obvious. I am amazed that Ponting had kept this side at the top for so long . After the retirement of 3/4's of any side in the last few years a team will struggle. Considering the Aussie team had some the greatest players and some very good ones, it is a wonder they didn't fall in a screaming heapand have results like England have for the last 20years(just having a dig). Regarding crowd behaviour. I don't take my kids to the cricket any more becasue of the abuse players on the field have to put up with from both Aussie and overseas spectators. Booze and media hyping up every supposed angry confrontation , only enflame sitautions on and off the field. Hopefully each nation's cricket board will stomp out this rot from these spectators

  • Nick on August 5, 2009, 0:49 GMT

    The fact that the Aussies are still ranked number 1 after losing almost and entire world champion team indicates that the rest of the cricket world are still crap as they struggle to beat a team of rookies and old men. All this chest beating is pathetic. Where was the confident boasts when Aussies were steam-rolling everyone throughout the last decade and a half? At least when the Windies were top, the Aussies stood up to them and competed. How many tests did they lose in a row to Windies? Something like 13. No doubt the Aussies are rebuilding and it will take a few more years to get back to real strength. But when they do, it will be another decade before they are challenged again so poms, indians and springboks better make the most of it right now.

  • tim on August 5, 2009, 0:39 GMT

    Interesting theory Tim but... I think England are still England and probably lucky to be 1-0 up. We were lucky to scramble a draw from the 1st test where we were behind 4 out of the 5 days. Nearly lost the second from what should have been an unassailable position. And the 3rd was really only 3 days of play. I'm not sure that we could have made up the 260+ runs that would have been set with another full days play. As for the woes of Johnston in contrast to Freddy - Johnston actually has 10/423 @ 42.3, Freddy 7 for 345 @ 48.5 so far. I'm worried what will happen if Johnston gets his confidence back.

  • mark on August 5, 2009, 0:03 GMT

    last two comments spot on! england bowlers dominate when swinging and they have bowled at key times when it has done a lot for them. Monday showed how they look without assistance, dont get me wrong, i still think they offer more in the bowling stakes but these two teams are not far apart at all. More of the same please! Except the rain. (to everyone listening to the press re whinging etc - forms your own opinions, both sets of players are happy with how this is being played). viva la ashes.

  • Paul on August 4, 2009, 22:26 GMT

    Tim, the comparisons to English Cricket are valid at present but fortunately and unlike England, it will be only temporary. Even AB and Mark Waugh got dropped early in their careers and it did not hurt. In this series, the swinging ball and a relatively inexperienced team have made Australia appear to be weaker than the usual Aussie teams but Australia will learn and improve, whereas England will continue to play the same way - Victories at home because of swing and knowledge of conditions and utterly hopeless on the road, where there is no swing. So looking forward to when the saffers take them on, without Flintoff!

  • uthaman on August 4, 2009, 22:09 GMT

    Very funny to read especially the last line cracked me up. But that is the reality. Australia keeps getting into point of no return situations and cornered situations. Australia might be new England. But i can say England is definitely not the old Australia.

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