0Australia steam on in battle against Proteas

When Eng­land squared up to Aus­tralia in the last Ashes series I, like many, thought the vis­it­ors would retain the urn dur­ing the five match series. It was always going to a tough­er battle than the sum­mer show­down but vic­tory was expec­ted.

Play­er for play­er Eng­land were just too strong, weren’t they? At the time, with the standout excep­tion of middle-order maes­tro Michael Clarke, a com­bined XI of the two sides would have been dom­in­ated by the three lions. Oth­er than skip­per Clarke who would have made the com­bined side? Per­haps Dav­id Warner for Michael Car­berry? A fit Ryan Har­ris in for either Chris Trem­lett or Tim Bresnan? Cer­tainly the former, prob­ably the lat­ter. A place for Shane Wat­son? Maybe – but who would he replace? On the face of it, how­ever, Eng­land cer­tainly appeared the stronger out­fit.

Fast for­ward a few weeks and the view from the bound­ary is some­what dif­fer­ent. Aus­tralia anni­hil­ated and humi­li­ated Eng­land in every dis­cip­line, out­play­ing them in every area and keep­ing their foot on the accel­er­at­or through­out the series and into the one day capers. Now forever con­fined to the his­tory books from that ini­tial start­ing XI thanks to Australia’s dom­in­ance are Kev­in Pietersen (harshly), prob­ably Jonath­an Trott (due to oth­er factors for which Aus­tralia merely provided the coup de grâce) and Graeme Swann. Eng­land are not going to replace their 13,000 com­bined runs and Swann’s 250 odd wick­ets overnight and Aus­tralia will no longer have to face any of them when they next lock horns. They didn’t just win an import­ant series they won the psy­cho­lo­gic­al battle as well – Eng­land were left emo­tion­ally scarred and will take time to rebuild and recap­ture past glor­ies.

Even after the thrash­ing of Eng­land, how­ever, I still thought the per­form­ance of the green bag­gied out­fit was a mere flash in the pan. Surely the thrash­ing was simply down to a tired Eng­land side who had only just fin­ished one Ashes series and couldn’t quite motiv­ate them­selves for anoth­er scrap? Com­bine that with a few key play­ers out of form or sorts and you have a mere aber­ra­tion, don’t you?

Well the recent events at the Super­S­port Park in Cen­tur­i­on in the first test of South Africa v Aus­tralia would make it seem I have to eat yet anoth­er rather large slice of humble pie. Again, before this match, few of the Aus­sie start­ing XI would have made it into a com­bined South Africa / Aus­tralia side. The Pro­teas have been at the top of the world rank­ings for a while now – and with good reas­on – they have class run­ning through the entire spine of the side. Graeme Smith sets the stand­ards for oth­ers at the top of the order – and Hashim Amla and AB de Vil­li­ers fol­low in style. Jacques Kal­lis may have depar­ted but tal­ent still remains. They are backed up by a fero­cious pace bat­tery. So as good a series as the Aus­sie top order (Brad Had­din included) had against Eng­land and as well as the bowl­ers bowled they all lack the con­sist­ency of the greats men­tioned above, don’t they? Well Aus­tralia have simply picked up from where they left off in dev­ast­at­ing Eng­land. One test in and the great South Afric­an side, top of the world rank­ings, lay in tat­ters. Of course they could yet turn it around – and if they do then massive cred­it to them. But the Aus­sies are in that cock­sure pos­i­tion of old. Their tails are up and their con­fid­ence there for all to see. They have humi­li­ated their prey and ground it to dust.

Where has this come from? On paper Aus­tralia lack many world class play­ers – gone are the Warnes, McGraths and Waughs of this world. But that appears not to mat­ter. After a largely quiet few years Aus­tralia, it would appear, are roar­ing back to the top.

They have man­aged to find a team spir­it, unity and bond that appeared some­what lack­ing dur­ing the non­sense that was ‘home­work gate’ and still in short sup­ply dur­ing their Ashes battle in the Eng­lish sum­mer. They play way above the sum of their com­bined parts. If the com­bined aver­ages of Eng­land (at the start of the Ashes), Aus­tralia and South Africa (the start of this series) are com­pared then there is little to choose between them. Eng­land aver­age 358, Aus­tralia 374.06 (although this is skewed by debutant Alex Noon­an aver­aging 58 from this one test. If Shane Wat­son had been play­ing in his place then the com­bined aver­age is 352.39). South Africa’s recent dom­in­ance is shown by a slightly high­er aver­age of 376.39. But in real­ity there is little to sep­ar­ate the three.

This upturn in form seems to have coin­cided with coach Dar­ren Lehmann tak­ing con­trol. He has clearly worked won­ders on the team – his long stint as an adop­ted York­shire­man has clearly done him the power of good. Team eth­ic is the most import­ant part of the setup. The play­ers are per­form­ing to the abso­lute max­im­um of their abil­ity and when it mat­ters. Good on them. Ques­tions remain about the age of the side and the young­sters wait­ing in the wings. But you can only beat what is put in front of you and Aus­tralia are most cer­tainly doing that.

Who­ever replaces Andy Flower as Eng­land supremo should look no fur­ther than Lehmann’s example.

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