If ever confirmation was needed that the Australian way of playing cricket is superior to the English method, the final day of the second Ashes Test provided the ultimate proof.
Australia have a strong belief in winning and its players to make it happen, while England are uncertain when seeking victory and handicapped by poor selection. While Australia were still desperately searching for wickets on the fifth morning, England were largely batting with survival on their mind.
If you look at Test records, games are won either by so many runs or wickets and that is why both are critical to the ultimate result. The moment you stop trying your darnedest to accumulate either, an opponent senses opportunity; and you don’t need to offer a bowler of Shane Warne’s class a second invitation.
England will claim it’s hard to score runs off Warne when he is bowling well but, alternatively, if you don’t he’s going to take wickets cheaply. When runs are scored from his bowling, at least the wickets cost him and by attacking sensibly England made Warne pay dearly for his first innings victim.
As late as the fourth evening when Warne bowled a couple of spitting and spinning deliveries, both Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell reacted positively by leaving their crease and also sweeping to score runs. Why then did they only add seven runs in forty three minutes on the fifth morning, when Warne was bowling similarly?
Ricky Ponting said after the miraculous victory that their aim on the fifth morning was to stop England scoring. If a team is not aware of their opponents’ tactics or doesn’t respond to them positively, they’re in trouble but when their approach complements the opposition’s aims, it’s no surprise a loss resulted.
On a couple of occasions when they were well behind in the game, Australian players showed their intention was still to win the match. Despite being nearly one hundred runs in front on the last morning with nine wickets in hand, England never displayed a winning attitude.
If England knew Australia were trying to contain on the fifth morning why wasn’t Kevin Pietersen sent in at the fall of Strauss? That way England could have sent a strong message and Ponting would have had to deploy more run saving fielders, leaving less occupying catching positions.
Besides a game of making runs and taking wickets, cricket is also about strategy and psychology; no good being skilled at the first two and inept at the second.
However, it is difficult for England to be totally positive about winning when they select both their wicket-keeper and spinner for their batting. These are the coach’s preferences and not only is Duncan Fletcher’s strategy flawed, it also indicates his concern about his top six batsmen not scoring enough.
With Australia, Ponting runs the team and with the help of senior players formulates the strategy. I’m not so sure about England. This could be where they are missing Michael Vaughan. In 2005 he was a captain in charge while Andrew Flintoff is a leader feeling his way.
England won the Ashes by attacking Australia but this time Vaughan isn’t around to ensure the same approach. Perhaps Fletcher, by virtue of being coach when the Ashes were regained, is asserting more control.
Another area where Australia hold sway is wrist-spin. For decades England have eschewed leg-spin despite the importance of wrist-spin on flat Australian pitches, when the ball isn’t swinging. Warne gives Australia another way of winning matches even when his first innings analysis is a deflating 1/167.
Like all good teams, this Australian side always believes they can win. When the West Indies were dominating cricket, their fast bowler Andy Roberts used to say; “No matter what the opposition bowl us out for, we’ll bowl them out for less.”
That is the critical issue; taking twenty wickets required to win more cheaply than the opposition. There is no way England can achieve this if they select players in wicket-taking roles for their batting and can’t match Australia ‘s positive approach.