"The knives are always poised. Sometimes the knives can't be plunged because the results suggest it's not the right time. But as soon as an individual or the team begins to falter, the knives are all well and truly out. I can see lots of knives at the moment."
So said former Australia coach John Buchanan recently - quite possibly from the American Museum of Cutlery in Cattaraugus. The statement, which was about the Australian team, inadvertently highlights one area where Australians will always lag behind the English - criticism of their own side.
You see, just as a great team prides itself on its ability to win from any position, so we English pride ourselves on our ability to criticise the national side from any position. It's one thing brandishing knives when things aren't going well - anyone can kick a side when it's down - but it's quite another to find fault when your team's on top of the world. Australians are foul-weather critics. They slack off when their team starts winning. The English would never do that.
Batsmen will say they are "due a big score". By the same rationale, England supporters will imagine their form players are "due a failure" if all is going too well. Note my use of the phrase "too well" in that last sentence. Only an Englishman could have written that without a moment's thought. That good things don't last is a concept that is built into my character.
The glass half-full perspective on wicketkeepers is that there's always one thing that they can get right, be it in front of or behind the stumps. The English attitude is that unless you're excelling at both batting and keeping pretty much constantly, your place is under threat from whoever last made a hundred in the second division of the County Championship. Wicketkeepers and allrounders don't have two strings to their bow, they are twice as likely to fail.
Think of No. 1 Test teams over the years and the majority have had four bowlers. The great West Indies sides, the Australia teams of recent vintage, and even India, who currently top the rankings. England currently have four bowlers and an entire middle order of part-timers. To the English this is a catastrophe waiting to happen. What if someone pulls a hamstring? Always expect the worst.
Thanks to skill, maturity and Hawk-Eye, Graeme Swann has 113 Test wickets at 26.55. This is unprecedented for a conventional finger-spinner and therefore cannot last. What Gareth Batty and Richard Dawson did gives us a better idea of Swann's future performance than anything he himself has done. If Swann goes to pieces, England will have to resort to Monty Panesar. Panesar is not first reserve because Swann has been bowling well. He is first reserve because he was dropped and is therefore a failure.
Australians, you will never match the English at criticising your own team. We can defeat our boys before they've even strapped on their pads. We basically see professional cricket as being a film script written for other nations. If England declare for 600 without loss and then dismiss the opposition for under a hundred, we don't anticipate a crushing win, we see the potential for the most embarrassing loss in cricket history. That is our very first thought, I kid you not. You can't fake pessimism like that. It's in your blood.