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England brace themselves for a Wilkinson kicking

The only consolation for Australian backpackers in London at the moment is that at least they are not England cricketers.

india Updated: Dec 05, 2003 00:50 IST

The only consolation for Australian backpackers in London at the moment is that at least they are not England cricketers.

At least the Earl's Court Aussies don't have to feign joy, post Saturday, post Sydney. And English gloating, after all, shouldn't last much longer than four years.

Michael Vaughan and his troupe have much more confusing emotions to deal with after England's rugby union World Cup win.

Of course they took time out during their preparations for the first test in Sri Lanka to delight spontaneously in the Jonny Wilkinson-inspired success story.

On reflection, however, it would only be human to feel a certain unease.

Every time England's cricketers are bowled out for 88 -- as they were earlier this month in the first one-dayer against the Sri Lankans -- somebody somewhere will compare their powder-puff resilience to that of Martin Johnson's men of granite.

The barbs, indeed, have already begun.

The Sydney Morning Herald, in a good-natured apology for any anti-English propaganda it might have inadvertently printed during the World Cup, could not resist one sly cricketing aside.

"We concede the time has come to forgive you for using Australia as a dumping ground for your poor, weak and defenceless," it wrote, "Even if the practice continues unabated every fourth summer."

Another Australian journalist had a shy at the same rather large target when the England rugby team held a celebratory conference shortly after returning home by inviting coach Clive Woodward to ruminate on English failings at cricket. Woodward looked bemused.

You can't blame the Australians, of course.

At heart, all they want is a good cricketing contest and England have not come even close to doing that for eight successive Ashes series.

In the last three, the English have lost 11 matches and won three, their victories invariably coming in dead games at the rump end of the contest. England have also not beaten Australia in 14 one-dayers.

The Australians have even lent Rodney Marsh to the England academy to try and help sort things out.

GOOD DAYS

To be fair to the cricketers, they have had good days, even reaching three World Cup finals. In the 1987 edition they lost by just seven runs and were only 22 short five years later.

Central contracts for the players have also helped the side climb to third in both test and one-day world rankings this year.

Vaughan was ranked the best batsman around at the start of the year, while all rounder Andrew Flintoff is pretty useful too.

To get close to Australia, however, England will have to place even greater emphasis on the national side at the expense of the reluctant counties, while unearthing a spinner or express bowler of outstanding quality.

Former captain Nasser Hussain has made that point for years and the rugby success prompted a repeat in the Independent newspaper this week.

"If you put plans in place, let a great coach do the things he wants and get a superstar in your team like Wilkinson, you can make a good side into a great one," he said.

To find a superstar, however, you first have to get the kids to play the game. And most of England's new generation want to be David Beckham, while the rest now seem to be firm Wilkinson converts.

First Published: Dec 05, 2003 00:42 IST