It's going to be a long, hot summer for England. They have, to date, played four Test matches and lost three, and six One-Day International and lost all six. The solitary Test win against Pakistan at Lord's seems like a distant memory. Only an experimental bit of captaincy by Steve Waugh enable England to avoid an innings defeat. Two overs from Mark Waugh cost 12 runs though it can be argued that it lulled England in a false sense of security.
Australia's victory margins have been emphatic and both the Edgbaston and Lord's Test matches were won and lost, well inside the distance. If one went by the number of overs bowled, England batted for some 120 plus overs in all in the Lord's Test match. In this long, hot summer, England has had three captains, the very injury-prone Nasser Hussain, Alec Stewart and Mike Atherton. The team have been chopped and changed and the selectors must be at the end of their tether.
An idea of the depth in this Australian side can be had from the fact that there is no room for Justin Langer, Damien Fleming and Colin Miller. Every other Test team in the world would welcome them with open arms. So far, the Ashes series has been too one-sided.
What has surprised me is the poor fielding of England. There should be no excuse for this but it shows what relentless pressure can do to a team. One has said this many times but cricket is a mind game and England give the impression that it is a sparring partner rather than a contender.
The matches are being lost in the dress-room. Self-belief has evaporated. Pictures of a Atherton sitting by himself on the balcony showed a deeply troubled and a lonely captain. Pictures of the coach Duncan Fletcher, with his head down and a faraway expression showed a man overwhelmed by a feeling of being let-down, decisively proving that one picture was worth a thousand words.
Looking for crumbs, the comments constantly harped on the catches dropped, particularly the one by Mark Butcher when Adam Gilchrist was 13. Had Butcher held the catch, Australia's lead would have been about 100, argued David Gower. I had a friend at the University of Southern California, a no-nonsense Sikh called Madanjit Singh Malik. He dealt with this kind of reasoning by saying that if he had wheels, he would be a trolley-car on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.
Who is to say that had Gilchrist gone early, someone else would not have filled the breach? This a negative post-mortem, if the patient had been a non-smoker, he would not have died of lung cancer. A positive post-mortem would have shown that the England bowling attack had a muchness about it, there should have been a spinner and it seems pointless to have a specialist batsman who comes in at number seven.
England used Darren Gough and Andy Caddick as both strike and stock bowlers. Then there was far too much purposeless shortpitched bowling. It is educational that Mark Waugh was subjected to a barrage of it. He did not play a single hook or pull shot and yet made a hundred. A short-pitch ball is meant to intimidate and rattle a batsman but as a staple diet, it becomes a banquet feast. This is bad bowling. I think the skipper should have intervened. There was the example of Glenn McGrath before them.
It was good to see the West Indies in their stride even though the opponents were Zimbabwe. Winning can become habit-forming and to have won by an innings, without Brian Lara will do much to re-create belief in themselves.
Chris Gayle is in purple form. He seems hungry for runs and the West Indies may have found half an answer to the opening batsman problem, never having come to terms with the loss of Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes.
They now need to find a bowler or bowlers who can match Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose or come close to it. The appointment of West Hall as the president of the West Indies Cricket Board could help in this area. Having been a great fast bowler himself, he will know what it means to have someone in the team who is quick and deadly.
The Indians don't seem to be having a great time in Sri Lanka and seem to be missing Sachin Tendulkar. But no team must everdepend on one player. Saurav Ganguly's lean patch raises the question whether he is feeling the pressure of captaincy. There is now a tentativeness about his batting and he looks uncomfortable against the ball aimed at his rib-cage. The Indian team also does not have a settled look and it has allowed the fact that its overseas record is bleak to play on its mind.
Pakistan, in the meantime, is getting ready for the start of the international season. Still headed by Wasim Bari, and quite rightly, the selection committee has two new members Mohsin Khan and Aqib Javed. The selection committee is getting ready to pick 25 players for a training camp. This seems to be too many, a crowd. I cannot imagine that all 25 have a realistic chance. So why not confine the training camp to the certainties and borderline cases and send the rest to the National Academy in Lahore?
The main focus should be on fitness and as a matter of policy, a halffit player should not be considered. It does no good to the team and even less good to the half-fit player. A premium must be placed on fitness.
Shoaib Akhtar has been playing the odd match in England which means that he is reasonably fit. He will be under pressure from the home crowd, if he is selected. The Pakistani cricket public has been remarkably patient with his recurring injuries. A doctor or a fitness trainer can do only so much for him. It is for Shoaib to call upon his mental strength to get his body torespond. Fitness is also a state of mind.