Ashes back with the Aussies

Here is a brilliant, efficient, brutal side with all the qualities any coach would want, writes Ted Corbett.

It is not much comfort now, but at Headingley, Lord's, Cardiff and the Oval in 2009 the Ashes may be a whole different story.

England might even win the old trophy and keep it for as long as Australia have in the last 20 years.

Do you remember what happened in 1984 when Dennis Lillee, Rod Marsh and Greg Chappell all retired together? For the next 10 years Australia struggled, Kim Hughes resigned in tears, Allan Border reigned in a temper and when they set out for England in 1989 they were described as the worst team ever to fly out of the country.

(They won the series 4-0 of course and returned with the Ashes to a ticker tape parade but that was a shock even to the Aussies. It was also the start of their 16 years in charge.)

Remember too what happened to West Indies when Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Des Haynes all retired in the early 90s. A slow descent to disaster from which they are still recovering and from which lack of forward planning even Brian Lara's brilliance could not save them.

Keep a team together too long — as the Australians are doing at the moment — and you find that suddenly there are no automatic replacements.

The young ones, finding there is no place in the Test side, go off to learn banking or join the Army or head back to university.

And when you need to slot new players into the spaces left by the old guys there is no-one of the right stature.

England could not replace David Gower, Ian Botham and Allan Lamb in the 1990s and stumbled from crisis to disaster until Nasser Hussain and Duncan Fletcher and Michael Vaughan and Fletcher pulled a team back together.

Now it will clearly soon be Australia's time to remake their side and it may be more difficult than they pretend. They won the Ashes series against England at Perth with style and panache and you have to give them credit not just for the strong performances from their batsmen, their superb fielding, but also for the stamina shown by their bowlers.

But - or am I allowing my eyes to deceive me? - is Shane Warne extracting as much spin from the pitch as he used to? Is the Channel Nine speedo telling the truth or is Glenn McGrath five miles an hour slower than he used to be?

Are two of the new players really old men in debut clothing? Heavens, look at the record book. Michael Hussey is 31 and Stuart Clark is 31. How much longer can they keep going, never mind the Dad's Army group of McGrath, Warne, Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer and Adam Gilchrist.

Ricky Ponting poured scorn on the age related jokes after Australia had won by 206 runs, with some justification. "The guys in question wanted to show they could still play," he said. But for how much longer?

McGrath has more injuries and is clearly being nursed, Warne must be at the end of his run of records and it is now taking him longer to accumulate his wickets and the Australian press, the most biased in the cricket world, cannot go on covering up the shortcomings much longer.

Thus Hayden's run famine — an average of 22 in his last 10 Tests — has never been subject to the sort of inquest that it should receive and would certainly receive if he were an England opening batsman.

Yes, I know Gilchrist broke out of the run of poor scores with his magnificent century off 57 balls at the WACA but before that he had made one fifty in two series against England.

Are there men to replace these ageing warriors?

An old television hand, from the back of the gantry rather than the commentary box, stopped me at Perth and told me: "By 2009 you will be ruling the roost. You have a bright young batsman of 21 in Alastair Cook who is already an established Test opener.

"We don't have a player of his age who is established in our state cricket. We are about to have a famine of talent." At this time all that is so much blather but I have a feeling it will come true.

In the meantime England have to live with a 3-0 scoreline, three heavy Test defeats and a failure to prepare properly. "Fail to prepare; prepare to fail" is the oldest motto in sport and in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth in less than a month that has haunted England.

"I am happy with the team we picked and I have no regrets," said Andrew Flintoff, the England captain, shortly after the long drawn out defeat at the WACA. He looked brighter than he had done at Adelaide where he had just been hit by an earthquake of a beating and he even managed a wink as he passed me on his way out.

But everything in the England camp cannot be happy. Duncan Fletcher, the coach, will leave this job - sooner rather than later I suspect - knowing that he will be blamed for undermining two wicket-keepers.

He has said of Chris Read that he cannot deal with pressure; and Geraint Jones, the lad most likely to lose his place, has just made two ducks after 51 Tests without a single nought against his name.

Fletcher's insistence that No. 8 should be a batsman has allowed Sajid Mahmood into the team for James Anderson, one of the best bowlers on the trip, his refusal to play two spinners - as if it offended against some rule of nature - has meant he has never fielded the two outstanding bowlers in the squad.

His instructions to the batsmen on the final day in Adelaide must either have been wrong or so indistinct that no-one understood them.

But let us forget such negative thoughts and enjoy the beauty that is Australian cricket while it is still in our sights. Two more great innings from Michael Hussey; what a find he has been. More of Shane Warne, spinning and curling the ball, trying to twist umpire Rudi Koertzen round his little finger, mesmerising batsmen from the great to the incompetent; a show-man offering a stage full of singing, dancing and pretty girls; a magician screaming "now you see it, now you don't."

Whatever his faults Warne still is a wondrous bowler as he has drawn hundreds of victims into his lair. So is McGrath, coming back for those astonishing overs at the end of the fourth day and dealing decisive blows to the century-maker Cook and the night-watchman Matthew Hoggard.

With Ponting scoring runs as he pleases, with Gilchrist still agile and neat behind the stumps, with Andrew Symonds, tousle-haired and white lipped roaming like a caged tiger in the defensive midlands where nothing passes him, this is a great team.

Ruthless too. If you hesitate, as Kevin Pietersen did and got away with it, and Jones did only to be run out, you will come a cropper.

Here is a brilliant, efficient, brutal side with all the qualities any coach would want, led by a self-assured captain, directed by a coach they will miss just as much as they will regret the passing of their old men.

Because, it will mean the end of their supremacy while younger teams from England, India and Pakistan take over.

THE SCORES

WACA Ground, Perth, December 14-18. Australia won by 206 runs.

Australia 1st innings: J. L. Langer b Panesar 37; M. L. Hayden c Jones b Hoggard 24; R. T. Ponting lbw b Harmison 2; M. E. K. Hussey (not out) 74; M. J. Clarke c & b Harmison 37; A. Symonds c Jones b Panesar 26; A. C. Gilchrist c Bell b Panesar 0; S. K. Warne c Jones b Panesar 25; B. Lee lbw b Panesar 10; S. R. Clark b Harmison 3; G. D. McGrath c Cook b Harmison 1; Extras (w 1, nb 4) 5; Total 244.

Fall of wickets: 1-47, 2-54, 3-69, 4-121, 5-172, 6-172, 7-214, 8-234, 9-242.

England bowling: Hoggard 12-2-40-1; Flintoff 9-2-36-0; Harmison 19-4-48-4; Panesar 24-4-92-5; Mahmood 7-2-28-0.

England 1st innings: A. J. Strauss c Gilchrist b Clark 42; A. N. Cook c Langer b McGrath 15; I. R. Bell c Gilchrist b Lee 0; P. D. Collingwood c Hayden b McGrath 11; K. P. Pietersen c Symonds b Lee 70; A. Flintoff c Warne b Symonds 13; G. O. Jones c Langer b Symonds 0; S. I. Mahmood c Gilchrist b Clark 10; M. J. Hoggard c Hayden b Warne 4; S. J. Harmison c Lee b Clark 23; M. S. Panesar not out 16; Extras (w 1, nb 10) 11; Total (all out) 215.

Fall of wickets: 1-36, 2-37, 3-55, 4-82, 5-107, 6-114, 7-128, 8-155, 9-175.

Australia bowling: Lee 18-1-69-2; McGrath 18-5-48-2; Clark 15.1-3-49-3; Warne 9-0-41-1; Symonds 4-1-8-2.

Australia 2nd innings: J. L. Langer b Hoggard 0; M. L. Hayden c Collingwood b Panesar 92; R. T. Ponting c Jones b Harmison 75; M. K Hussey c Jones b Panesar 103; M. J. Clarke (not out) 135; A. Symonds c Collingwood b Panesar 2; A. C. Gilchrist (not out) 102; Extras (lb 15, w 2, nb 1) 18; Total (for five wkts decl.) 527.

Fall of wickets: 1-0, 2-144, 3-206, 4-357, 5-365.

England bowling: Hoggard 20-4-85-1; Flintoff 19-2-76-0; Harmison 24-3-116-1; Panesar 34-3-145-3; Mahmood 10-0-59-0; Pietersen 5-1-31-0.

England 2nd innings: A. J. Strauss lbw b Lee 0; A. N. Cook c Gilchrist b McGrath 116; I. R. Bell c Langer b Warne 87; P. D. Collingwood c Gilchrist b Clark 5; K. P. Pietersen (not out) 60; M. J. Hoggard b McGrath 0; A. Flintoff b Warne 51; G. O. Jones (run out) 0; S. I. Mahmood lbw b Clark 4; S. J. Harmison lbw b Warne 0;M. S. Panesar b Warne 1; Extras (b 7, lb 8, w 6, nb 5) 26; Total 350.

Fall of wickets: 1-0, 2-170, 3-185, 4-261, 5-261, 6-336, 7-336, 8-345, 9-346.

Australia bowling: Lee 22-3-75-1; McGrath 27-9-61-2; Clark 25-7-56-2; Warne 39.2-6-115-4; Symonds 9-1-28-0.