Aussies are now the bigger whingers

The likes of Allan Border, Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Dean Jones, Gladstone Small and a host of other personalities once famed in the Test arena, gather at a different beach every Saturday afternoon to play in front of an astonished audience, writes Ted Corbett.

January 29: Michael Vaughan is not the only England leader with an injury problem, or to use the Australian vernacular, an injury drama. Johnny Wilkinson wins the Rugby World Cup — literally, since he drops a goal against Australia in the last minute of the final — and has not played for his country since through a series of further injury dramas. "What is the story with your Wilko?" a taxi driver asks me in Adelaide recently. He is so big he almost fills the cab before we get in and it turns out he is a former player and a big fan and will spend the whole of the next World Cup this autumn watching in England, Ireland and France. You will ask how a taxi driver can afford six weeks' holiday, but he cannot give me a convincing answer. He wants to know the latest injury state of the talented Wilkinson, who is 6ft 3in, tackles heavyweight forwards as if they are little babies and can run, kick and pass with style and elegance. Once you see him kick goals left-footed from any distance — hands folded in front of him — you never forget it since he concentrates so hard you can almost hear his brain switch off. He is just as important to England in the 15-a-side game as Vaughan is to his cricket team. This week Wilkinson plays in a club game for 50 of the 80 minutes and is immediately rushed back into the full international side. All they need is Wilko and a bit of luck; just like England's cricket team waiting for Vaughan.

January 30: There is a new lad on the reporting block, keen as young men are and determined that being in Australia is a structured holiday. Well, good luck to him because a long time ago I take the same view. He is also sure that one-day games are every bit as good as a Test until he sees five in a couple of weeks that are not of the standard desired and his idealism begins to fade. So is the interest from the papers back home. I meet another reporter wandering off to the movies. "What no work?" I ask. "I am sorry to say the results mean I get a yawn instead of a good morning whenever I ring the boss," he replies. England's poor performances do their image no good at all and I wonder just how the television money men will view cricket when the main contracts are due for renewal in 2009. Not with much enthusiasm unless the results improve.

January 31: When the England selectors wonder if Darren Gough, 36 and, so the home newspapers say, ready to retire, is happy to play in the World Cup, they find him on a beach in the company, not of his ever-loving children, but with his peers. That is to say he is, with a red ball, an old bat, a stretch of sand and a thousand spectators, playing international beach cricket a game which, if you are stupid enough to take the words of the television presenter, is superior to every other form of the game. This opinion is not one that Wisden shares but none the less TV schedules must be filled, beer must be sold. So the likes of Allan Border, Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Dean Jones, Gladstone Small and a host of other personalities once famed in the Test arena, gather at a different beach every Saturday afternoon to play in front of an astonished audience. Somewhere along the line, some reporter newly returned to the United Kingdom — and probably brain dead after watching England lose on such a regular basis — decides that Gough will not retire as forecast but get a place among the 30 England cricketers most likely to snatch the World Cup from Australia. He also hears that the England selectors inquire of ICC whether they can add to their first 30 players. "Just trying to clarify the situation," says David Graveney, chairman of the selectors. But, of course, the story is taken seriously by all sorts of people out of touch with such basic facts as Gough's most recent games for England — bowling average 58 for each wicket and six runs for each over bowled — and the story develops a sturdier set of legs that Darren himself. Darren is a lovely lad but he is also, shall we say, not averse to a little publicity and when he meets a bunch of reporters whose mums have not yet taught them to dry behind their ears, he announces that he will be in the Caribbean for the World Cup. So he may be. They have 365 beaches in Antigua alone so there is plenty of room to kick sand in your opponents' faces.

February 1: I hear a claim that the old cry about "whinging Poms" — who are supposedly always complaining about some slight, mishap or wrong — no longer comes readily to Australian lips. Perhaps the Aussies are now the bigger whingers. They spent most of this warm summer telling us that they want to see more fight from the England side but when the Poms not only put up a fight but win a match there is a complaint that Aussie fans did not pay $50 a ticket to see their side lose, particularly when their favourite player Brett Lee is left out of the team. Now that is whinging; and in my opinion no-one whinges better than a defeated Australian.

February 2: England appear to cut back on their favourite habit of touching gloves — in the style of boxers — each time they survive another delivery. Perhaps it is because their managers are worried that in time batsmen and bowlers will be punch drunk.

February 3: David Lloyd, once the England coach, now a television commentator who specialises in Twenty-20 matches, walks into a Sydney pub and inquires of the barman whether he may have a glass of their finest ale. "Get out," says the barman, "I already throw you out once tonight and you are never to return." Lloyd, otherwise known as Bumble, is perplexed since this is his first visit to the pub but he does not wish to protest too strongly since the bouncers appear to be particularly fierce and decides on a quiet retreat. Observing him to be an inoffensive character, the barman relents and offers him one beer which enables Lloyd to reflect on a recent conversation with the fast bowler James Anderson, who is being sent home to protect his back. "How are you feeling, Jimmy?" "I'm fine, thank you Bumble." "Pain free?" "Yes, never felt better?" "So why are you going home?" Anderson smiles as enigmatically as the Mona Lisa, apparently as mystified as the rest of us about one of the oddest decisions of a tour which has more than its fair share of strange decisions.

February 4: Johnny Wilkinson kicks England to victory over Scotland almost on his own. Maybe there is hope for Michael Vaughan after all.