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Australia primed for Ashes defeat

Malcolm Knox

Malcolm Knox

Written on Tuesday, 18 May 2010 18:34

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Oh dear, oh dear. Has The Summer of Our Kidding Ourselves just come to a grinding halt? You didn't have to watch much of the T20 final in Bridgetown to know what was happening. Never mind that fewer than half of the England and Australian teams were Test players: this was day one of the 2010/11 Ashes series, and it couldn't have gone much worse for our guys.

There was a corresponding match, in late 2006, in the ICC Champions' Trophy in India. It was Australia's first meeting with England since losing the Ashes in 2005. Glenn McGrath and Damien Martyn nailed the English, setting off a chain reaction that eventuated, a few months later, in an Ashes whitewash. There's no doubt that both sides were viewing Sunday's T20 final the same way.

So, under some real pressure for the first time in memory, Shane Watson lasted all of three minutes. Watson might be the best opener in the world against the worst bowling in the world, but until he proves himself against a half-decent Test attack he can do without the big head to match his big hair. Watson's snarling behaviour during the T20 tournament at least looked convincing. Unlike in the past, when his attempts to sledge or gloat had all the menace of a Punch and Judy show, he now appears to be a genuine schoolyard bully in the great Australian tradition. Or at least he sees himself as such.

But the problem for Watson, as it is for the current Australian team, is that they show signs of believing their own publicity. That is, they seem to believe that conquering the might of Pakistan and the West Indies in an Australian summer ranks them higher than fourth or fifth among cricket nations.

Confidence is all well and good, but no substitute for ability, and at the moment, the ugly truth about world cricket is that England have better players than Australia. They won 2-1 in England for the most part without their best batsman, Kevin Pietersen. Since then, they drew 1-1 with South Africa in South Africa and, in holding out for a couple of draws, showed the kind of spirit that gives teams an almost mystical sense of strength. And it's built on achievement, not clothing sponsorships.

By comparison, Australia beat the worst two teams to have come here in 30 years. That we had some good Test contests with the West Indies and Pakistan owed more to our team's limited competence than to the opposition's improvement.

Anyway, back to Barbados. Watson, failure. Michael Clarke, the next of our Ashes key men, managed to run out Dave Warner, nearly run out David Hussey, and scratch around for a while before chipping to midwicket. Just as limited-overs players can use the short form to play themselves into Test contention, so can they use the short form to play themselves out of it. Clarke hasn't gone that far, but his T20 performances must have damaged his self-belief. It was, after all, his first real go as Australian captain, and his batting as leader was in the Kim Hughes class.

Mitchell Johnson? Who knows? As Shaun Tait has shown, T20 is a good format for sprayers. It's unclear whether Johnson's future will follow Tait's. Whatever he was doing, it was not a good sign for the Ashes.

From an Ashes perspective, the only bright note to come from the Caribbean has been the second coming of Mr Cricket. We can hope dearly that Mike Hussey has recovered the consistency of 2006-07. Australia will be depending on him. On the other side, Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann and Ryan Sidebottom all looked improved players by the end of the tournament. Improved in skill and improved in confidence. And they beat the Aussies. England hadn't won a limited overs world-level competition, ever. They now have. They haven't defended the Ashes in Australia since 1986-87. I'm very worried that they soon will.

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