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

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