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December 4, 2013
Over the course of a largely triumphal Test match dinner in Adelaide Oval's new and sumptuously appointed southern stand, one moment stood out for its incongruity.
By way of an introduction to Australia's coach Darren Lehmann, the big screens aired footage of a Test match. This was not a game to feature Lehmann, nor an Australian Ashes victory, nor even a past match at the oval. Instead, the 500 guests were subjected to highlights of Australia's traumatising defeat in the fourth Test at Durham in August. Every one of Stuart Broad's wickets were replayed in all their gory detail.
By the time he reached the stage for a pre-dinner interview, Lehmann was as nonplussed as the rest of the room. All had been reminded that Australia's conquerors of Brisbane had been humiliated by England only months before. Another such collapse is all that separates the hosts from giving up the precious ground gained at the Gabba.
In recent times, Australia's responses to Ashes victory have been just as poor as England's capacity to rebound from a defeat has been strong. In 2009, Ricky Ponting's team needed only a draw at the Oval to retain the urn after clambering all over England at Headingley, but declined to choose a spinner on a turning pitch then succumbed meekly to Broad in the first innings. Jonathan Trott's debut hundred and Ponting's run-out closed the final avenues of escape.
Two years later and a rampant victory in Perth, like Brisbane achieved principally through the mercurial speed of Mitchell Johnson, had Australia's players speaking boldly about going on to take hold of the series on Boxing Day. Heads full of big ideas, feet lined with lead, the batsmen proceeded to self-destruct to the tune of 98 all out on a day of infamy. In addition to the Durham scenes, such history gives Lehmann and the captain Michael Clarke strong reason to be cautious.
"I'm obviously excited by the way we played in Brisbane but if you look at our results over the past 12 months, we have no reason to brag or gloat or be over the top," Clarke said. "We have got a lot of work to do in trying to become a better team, and winning one Test match doesn't do that. I can guarantee you, every single player in that team, their feet are well and truly on the ground.
"Our celebration after Brisbane wasn't anything like I have seen Australian teams celebrate when we have had big wins like that and I think that is because everybody knows that we're a long way from being the team we want to be, it's only one Test win and we have got some work to do in this second Test, that is for sure, and throughout the rest of the series."
Australia's sense that they cannot afford to get ahead of themselves is underlined by a team selection that pays less attention to the prospect of back-to-back Tests than the imperative of performing staunchly in this one. James Faulkner's inclusion at the expense of George Bailey would have bolstered the bowling in a way that might have saved Johnson, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle from burning themselves out before the WACA ground. But his omission is a sign that the selectors are thinking less keenly about next week than they are pondering tomorrow.
Adelaide's pitch looks brimful of runs, and despite the efforts of the groundstaff to dry the Athelstone clay in the pitch, its drop-in tray is likely to have more say in whether or not the surface deigns to break up in the ground's time-honoured manner. In this there is a mental challenge for Clarke's batsmen. They need only bat sensibly and patiently at the required times over five days to push England to the brink. As at the Oval in 2009, such tasks can often become more elusive due to their straightforward nature.
"It doesn't matter what pitch you play on, you still have to face the ball that's bowled at the time," Clarke said. "If you have an expectation to go out there and make a hundred, or the team make 500, I think you're kidding yourself. You need to work exceptionally hard at the start of your innings.
"Both teams are very good bowling attacks, a combination of fast and spin, and there'll be enough in this pitch batting first or reverse swing or spin. It's important once you get in to go on and make a big score, but it's about batting your best."
Back on Test-match dinner night, Lehmann warmed slowly into his work, shrugging off the unexpected effrontery of his Durham introduction. Pondering the likelihood of a friendly batting pitch and the possibility of a five-day draw, he noted sagely that even on a blameless surface the pressure of the Ashes can do strange things to batsmen.
For once trying to capitalise on a win rather than rebound from a loss, Australia must hope their willow-wielders can avoid the pitfalls of the recent past.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
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