A study in self-belief

We should be grateful that we have seen an extraordinary team at the height of its powers, winning when only a draw seemed possible and beating a side good enough to compete but which may also not be good enough to win a single Test in this series, writes Ted Corbett.

I confess it took a while before the enormity of Australia's achievement in winning the second Test at the Adelaide Oval began to sink in.

Blame it on a certain amount of disappointment at England's second innings collapse, the realisation that the great dream of winning the Ashes at home and defending them Down Under had been destroyed and that the next two months were going to be a long slog.

Unless, of course . . . but we cannot expect miracles. Once the brain began to function properly so that the figures could be added up there was no escaping the simple facts.

On the final day Australia took nine wickets and chased down 168 for the loss of four wickets in 33 overs after four days in which only 16 wickets had fallen and 1120 runs had been scored.

It is no use protesting, as an England fan might, that if their top order batsmen had batted only another half dozen overs in that pathetic second innings, Australia would not have succeeded.

Andrew Flintoff, the England captain, said it was a bad hour that caused the defeat but it was really a bad, bad day.

The result came because the Australians believed it was possible. Oh, and by the way, they had Shane Warne, the architect of their victory but also the labourer who was ready to bowl 32 of 73 overs in 34 degrees.

He proved if anyone needed proof that genius is one per cent inspiration, one per cent desperation and 98 per cent perspiration. He was the brains and the muscle; Australia ought to forgive him all his many past misdemeanours for showing what was possible on a cricket field.

Mike Brearley had a similar vision when England won at Headingley in 1981; Don Bradman and his Invincibles had the same dream when they scored 404 in much less than a full day to defeat England — again at Leeds — in 1948; Dav Whatmore and Arjuna Ranatunga showed they could think outside the box when they won the World Cup in 1996.

But such seers are rare and Warne, in consultation with Ricky Ponting and John Buchanan, gets the credit for a leap of imagination as they turned what every Australian newspaper had called a "bore war" into the most exciting cricket for a generation.

They were able to pull off this victory — how we laughed when Michael Clarke suggested it was possible with one day remaining — through the genius of Warne but just as much because they had such a vast amount of self-belief.

In particular they had Michael Hussey who has walked out of Pura Milk cricket into their Test and one-day sides and become a star.

He may be 31 but he has the energy of a teenager, the self-confidence of a kid who has never known defeat and the legs to carry this ageing side, the oldest team to represent Australia since the 1930s.

That experience has brought wisdom, Ponting has grown as a captain since he let himself down in the last Ashes series in England and now my feeling is that he and Buchanan are more willing to listen.

You could tell how much this win was a team effort as they leapt and danced and gyrated around the Adelaide Oval. It is not the English way to celebrate, any more than hiring foreign players is the English way; but most of the county sides as well as most of the Premiership clubs in football and both codes of Rugby now rely so heavily on imported stars that our own players underachieve in every international tournament.

What is English, or British, is to be self-deprecating and when we meet sportsmen as positive as these Aussies, as forward thinking as the giants of All Black Rugby and as supremely confident as the Argentine footballers we lack the confidence to tackle them head on.

I sometimes think that England teams of all codes are more comfortable losing, that they would no more boast of their prowess than they would consider robbing their grandma's house, and that trophies weigh them down.

We also suffer from the tall poppy syndrome, the desire to cut down those who stretch themselves to be captain of England, manager of the soccer team or Prime Minister and a press corps brought up on tales of failure.

I met one reporter of vast experience in every sport on the way from the ground. "What else is new?" I asked as Aussies danced around us. "I am used to these disappointments. They have gone on all my adult life," he said with a grimace.

England's cricketers are failures just as the football World Cup hopefuls lost out last summer; just as the Rugby players have to New Zealand, Argentina and South Africa recently; just as most of our athletes finished late in their races during the Olympic Games.

Perhaps my country, with its growing population of obese teenagers, its education system which prefers equality to success and its tendency to watch the television rather than get off its combined backside and achieve, is no longer great.

I often read that this is the case.

Actually, it is not so. Ten thousand men and women booked flights, bought tickets, found hotel accommodation and sang all the way to Australia where they have chanted their belief that England can win.

Paul Collingwood is not a failure. He batted with �lan in the first innings as he scored the first England double hundred in Australia for 69 years; in the second innings he defended like a man fighting for his life. Matthew Hoggard, a glutton for work, is not a failure.

Nor is Andrew Flintoff, the England captain, a failure although perhaps he should not be captain for the weight on his broad shoulders sometimes shows, particularly when he bats. The rest, who could not squeeze out another half dozen overs from the second innings, or score another 30 runs and so complete the work they had done over the previous four days, are hardly from the country or the age that gave us Admiral Nelson, the explorer David Livingstone and Winston Churchill.

Wealth and higher education and a comfortable life in the centre of sophisticated Europe have left their mark on our sportsmen; Australia, with its remote view of how life may be conducted, with its lack of varied newspapers and other reading matter takes huge pleasure in sporting prowess and rewards those who make the grade.

Briefly, it has given Australia the finest cricket team the world has ever known, although what will happen when their durable stars all retire together heaven alone knows.

I suspect that the selectors are tolerating Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Adam Gilchrist, Glenn McGrath and Warne for this series and that afterwards they will try to feed in newcomers like Shane Watson and Shaun Tait and give Clarke a more important role.

Meanwhile, we should be grateful that we have seen this extraordinary team at the height of its powers, winning when only a draw seemed possible and beating a side good enough to compete but which may also not be good enough to win a single Test in this series.

THE SCORES

Adelaide, December 1 to 5. Australia won by six wickets.

England — 1st innings: A. Strauss c Martyn b Clark 14; A. Cook c Gilchrist b Clark 27; I. Bell c & b Lee 60; P. Collingwood c Gilchrist b Clark 206; K. Pietersen (run out) 158; A. Flintoff (not out) 38; G. Jones c Martyn b Warne 1; A. Giles (not out) 27; Extras (lb-10, w-2, nb-8) 20; Total (for six wkts. decl.) 551.

Fall of wkts: 1-32, 2-45, 3-158, 4-468, 5-489, 6-491.

Australia bowling: Lee 34-1-139-1; McGrath 30-5-107-0; Clark 34-6-75-3; Warne 53-9-167-1; Clarke 17-2-53-0.

Australia — 1st innings: J. Langer c Pietersen b Flintoff 4; M. Hayden c Jones b Hoggard 12; R. Ponting c Jones b Hoggard 142; D. Martyn c Bell b Hoggard 11; M. Hussey b Hoggard 91; M. Clarke c Giles b Hoggard 124; A. Gilchrist c Bell b Giles 64; S. Warne lbw b Hoggard 43; B. Lee (not out) 7; S. Clark b Hoggard 0; G. McGrath c Jones b Anderson 1; Extras (b-4, lb-2, w-1, nb-7) 14; Total 513.

Fall of wkts: 1-8, 2-35, 3-65, 4-257, 5-286, 6-384, 7-502, 8-505, 9-507.

England bowling: Hoggard 42-6-109-7; Flintoff 26-5-82-1; Harmison 25-5-96-0; Anderson 21.3-3-85-1; Giles 42-7-103-1; Pietersen 9-0-32-0.

England — 2nd innings: A. Strauss c Hussey b Warne 34; A. Cook c Gilchrist b Clark 9; I. Bell (run out) 26; P. Collingwood (not out) 22; K. Pietersen b Warne 2; A. Flintoff c Gilchrist b Lee 2; G. Jones c Hayden b Lee 10; A. Giles c Hayden b Warne 0; M. Hoggard b Warne 4; S. Harmison lbw b McGrath 8; J. Anderson lbw b McGrath 1; Extras (b-3, lb-5, w-1, nb-2) 11; Total 129.

Fall of wkts: 1-31, 2-69, 3-70, 4-73, 5-77, 6-94, 7-97, 8-105, 9-119.

Australia bowling: Lee 18-3-35-2; McGrath 10-6-15-2; Warne 32-12-49-4; Clark 13-4-22-1.

Australia — 2nd innings: J. Langer c Bell b Hoggard 7; M. Hayden c Collingwood b Flintoff 18; R. Ponting c Strauss b Giles 49; M. Hussey (not out) 61; D. Martyn c Strauss b Flintoff 5; M. Clarke (not out) 21; Extras (b-2, lb-2, w-1, nb-2) 7; Total (for four wkts.) 168.

Fall of wkts: 1-14, 2-33, 3-116, 4-121.

England bowling: Hoggard 4-0-29-1; Flintoff 9-0-44-2; Giles 10-0-46-1; Harmison 4-0-15-0; Anderson 3.5-0-23-0; Pietersen 2-0-7-0.