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by P. Rajan

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Steve Waugh, it has been reported, told Michael Slater the other day that the Australian team is changing the way cricket will be played.

Arrogance this was not, truth it certainly was.

What is possibly most striking about these Aussies is their incessant aggression. It has always been an Aussie trademark, but linked often to their body language, on field demeanour and ownership of a valuable dictionary of invective.

But Waugh’s team, as was Mark Taylor’s, is aggressive in method as much as in manner, tactically belligerent, hostile in their batting and bowling styles, aggresive also in the way they chase history; it is is something almost unmatched in cricket except by the the great West Indian teams.

Slater says he was told to bat like he always does, a man late for tea with the Queen (though on second thoughts, would an Aussie care; make that Kate Moss); Brett Lee, much like Imran Khan would tell Wasim Akram, was instructed to bowl as fast as he could, as if to say the rest will take care of it self.

They score in Test matches, and not just in Australia, often at four runs an over, a Test match strike rate which is phenomenal; they run between the wickets with alarming alacrity; and their fielding positions, often a sea of slips for the fast bowlers, and crouching men around the bat, tells its own story (though despite their terrific fast bowling brigade, Taylor, said Ian Chappell recently, was a better user of Shane Warne; as in whenever Waugh’s stuck for an answer he prefers to call up McGrath and gang).

The only people unhappy with this scenario are the financial managers of the respective Test match venues they play at; after all, a quick perusal of their recent wins will tell you that many of their matches end by the fourth day, making a mockery of fifth day ticket sales.

They are also a team who understand the value of risk and momentum, not to mention the impact of psychological warfare. For Waugh to admit after just one Test that the edge to this Ashes series has gone (the build-up was over-hyped is what is left unsaid), displays the extent of his confidence. He considers England a beaten side, and so does England;s public and press. Perhpas even their team.

But Australia’s cricketing intellect, and England’s lack of it, is best exemplified by the choosing of a stop-gap captain for the second Test at Lord’s.

Nasser Hussain, known as ‘Poppadom” because his fingers break so easily, is out, and the selectors chose Michael Atherton, despite his reluctance, to fill that gap.

It was an acceptable, expected, routine decision; it was also a decision that was too cautious, too safe, too orthodox, too unimaginative, which possibly is a fair description of English cricket.

Critics felt Marcus Trescothick should have been given the job; Tom Graveney felt Trescothick was too young, the burden too heavy. It was again a statement that showed a lack of ambition and an absence of forward-thinking. Adam Gilchrist captained Australia when 11 Tests old; Trescothick has played 12. One day he could be captain of England, this would have been a nice quick, valuable taste before Hussain takes over again.

Considering this negative mindset, something that India has suffered from though Ganguly-Wright have attempted to alter it, there is more chance of Elvis being found alive than England winning the second Test.

Australia’s weakness, which is a bit like talking about Nadia Comaneci’s flaws, has been its batting, something apparent in India where they continously lost three quarters of their line-up in the last session. Yet centuries from Waugh (if he could play every innings in England we’d have never heard of Tendulkar), Martyn (Langer’s long rest begins) and Gilchrist (Rubin Carter stand aside, this is sports’ new Hurricane), have solved that problem for the moment. Now the others (Ponting.Hayden. Mark Waugh will want to step up). There is little to be said of bowling except that Damien Fleming might wonder whether he should apply for Indian or any other citizenship.

England is without Hussain, still without Michael Vaughan, and though they are just starting out, Ian Ward and Afzaal are reminders that the chasm between county and Test cricket is so wide even Evel Knievel wouldn’t launch himself across it on a motorcycle.

Ashley Giles is merely competent, Craig White reasonable, and Caddick and Gough just cannot carry England alone.

Indeed, there is not a single player, not one, who would make even to 12th man in the Australian team and that one presumes is an epitaph in itself.

If there is one final factor, as if more were required to prove the point, it is that Australia are cruel, they see a value in being ruthless. They do not come to beat sides, but to exterminate them, they do not come to win but to make history.

Once again Waugh is changing cricket. After all, the real measure of a team has always been how well do they play when the chips are down and things are going their way. Waugh‘s team has set a new standard: as in how well can you play and better yourself when things are going your way.

Its called chasing perfection and it’s why England may be advised not to book hotel rooms beyond a fourth day.

I said before they need a miracle. They still do.

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