Thank you, Australia

WHETHER it is the Indian subcontinent or Africa, the nationalist elite of the region followed a tried and tested policy to overthrow British imperialism — learning the systems and processes of the rulers and using these same practices to overthrow them. After nearly twenty years of Australian dominance, England's administrators will, ironically, have to thank their archrivals if their cricketers indeed deliver the knockout punch at The Oval (captain Michael Vaughan said playing for a draw and regaining the Ashes is a policy unknown to his team). Whether it be the setting up of the national academy, or the institution of central contracts to an elite group of players, or the centralisation of power at Lord's by systematically and progressively stripping the counties off their clout, the administrators have followed an Australian model of elite success in sport.

And, England's current cricketers would, at one remove, acknowledge an Aussie hand in their epoch-making feat. Michael Vaughan might well pop up at the BSkyB commentators box if the Ashes is regained in a refurbished Oval to offer a word of thanks to his predecessor Nasser Hussain, who was a great worshipper of all things Australian, whether it be aggression on the field, emphasis on camaraderie and bonding between teammates, the breaking down of hierarchies in the dressing room and the team hotel, and the liberal recognition that the `one-size-fits-all' technical and professional training culture prevalent in the England setup ever since the Graham Gooch-Mickey Stewart era has to end.

Michael Vaughan writes in his book A Year in the Sun: The Captain's Story, that it was coach Duncan Fletcher's tactical nous and Hussain's brilliant man-management techniques that helped English cricket script a new history of success.

Vaughan narrates a conversation he had with his captain at a Chelsea caf� after the Indian summer of 2002, when he transformed himself from the image of Michael Atherton's successor to that of stroke player par excellence. Hussain, in his forthright manner, asked his leading batsman to extend his new-found positive batting against the Aussie pace attack, especially Glenn McGrath, during the Ashes winter of 2002-03. "I'm not going to die wondering," Vaughan replied, implying he was not thinking about cricket and training till the moment came near. Hussain, according to Vaughan, just stared back, smiled and replied: `Oh, right." The captain and the coach never put pressure on their best batsman, who obliged them by scoring a bucketful of hundreds in exactly the same positive manner his captain had wanted.

Under Fletcher and Hussain, and now Vaughan, there would no longer be any more Phil Tufnells or Devon Malcolms — all naturally gifted players done in by man-management techniques that bordered on obscurantism — but only Marcus Trescothicks, Steve Harmisons and Andrew Flintoffs. Trescothick and Harmison are Fletcher's finds — the Somerset opener was spotted in a first-class game by the coach in his very first season in the job and transplanted straight into the England setup while the Durham tearaway, who Fletcher first saw in 2001, went straight into the Academy and made his Test debut the very next year.

Flintoff, as Vaughan writes, is the most visible manifestation of Hussain's man-management skills. Hussain realised that Flintoff, like Darren Gough, is a born natural force and took elaborate care to preserve and flourish his creativity within the monotonous rigours demanded by high-performance sport.

Cricket writers covering the ongoing Ashes are in raptures about the youth, energy, enthusiasm, spontaneity, confidence, camaraderie and `every one for the other' spirit within the England camp. Fletcher's tactical acumen, and its implementation by Vaughan, has given these attributes a direction. Flintoff's action plan of bowling against Adam Gilchrist, his bunny in the series, has been the high-profile example of this fusion of reason with creativity.

Even if the Ashes are not regained at The Oval, England has become the new Australia. The team may not embark on a reign of dominance, which the Aussies did from the middle of the 1990s. But, Vaughan's men have successfully adapted Australian models of excellence to suit their specific situations and cultures, and this would mean that they would be right up there challenging for the top slot during the next few years.

It would be interesting to see how this `New England' would be received in Australia during the next Ashes series. English teams to Australia of the past would be pilloried as the Dad's Army. Just about everybody in the country would take the mickey out of the English team for faithfully replicating the standardised mediocrity of the county circuit in the international arena and the team management would be mocked for throttling players of flair.

Some respect is finally due for England Down Under.