Ashes 2013: England Hold Australia's Key
It's easy to forget that this Ashes series isn't over. At least, not mathematically.
You'd be excused for thinking otherwise considering the number of post-mortems on Australian cricket being thrown around. But an autopsy on a living body isn't really fair on that body now, is it?
Sure, Australia have their backs pressed so tightly against the wall they are beginning to becoming part of the wall and are gathering moss, but still, their dream is not dead. Not quite. Australia are clinging on like Lion King's Mufasa clings to the cliff; and we all know what happened to him...
What do Australia have? Apart from the odds being stacked entirely against them?
Well, they have time. Precious, precious time. If the third Test was back-to-back to the second, those delivering post-mortems would probably be preparing their sermons and digging a grave. But they aren't back-to-back. Time is Australia's friend this week.
Time to practice. Time to plan. Time to reassess. Time to reevaluate. Time to select.
Time to think.
In an attempt to turn their fortunes around Australia have already sounded out past legends Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist, who have been in and around the squad over the past fortnight. But before they call on The Ghost of Bradman, Mother Teresa and The Holy Spirit, Australia could do worse than turn to their opponents for help.
England's control-freak-governed squad of robots is perhaps the perfect template for Australia to follow.
England are not an exciting cricket team. England play cricket for the majority of the time in a manner that would struggle to capture the attention of an ADHD-afflicted child sitting in a maths lesson. Their thought process behind batting is to beat the bowlers at patience, at fitness, and at application. They rarely collectively fail.
Their bowling is more glamorous, but only because of the skills on show. The premise remains the same: bore batsmen out, bowl in areas of weakness, leave gaps at their strengths. Tempt and lure. Frustrate and foil.
England's control freaks like to plan. They like to analyse. They like attention to detail.
James Anderson recently disclosed in a programme on the BBC that he's been having training on controlling his breathing and body language. England's analysts probably have files on their computers on the diameter of David Warner's moustache, the wrinkles on Peter Siddle's face and the number of products in Shane Watson's hair.
England may as well be the commercial promoters for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. No video is left unwatched, no HawkEye left unanalysed. It may at times be boring, methodical and monotonous, but it works almost all the time. Only when faced with genuine flair and excellence are England's robots forced to recompute their logic.
It's not only on the pitch, but off it too. The administration, governance and selection of the England cricket team has been mostly excellent for almost a decade now. There has been the occasional faux pas, and clingy girlfriend style management of certain individuals, but there's a strong argument to be made that England are the most well-run of the major cricketing nations.
Australia's existence could not be more different. For at least half a decade now, on and off the field Australia have behaved like a claustrophobic man stuck in a lift. They've been panicked, hysterical and agitated. Any plans that may have existed have had the shelf-life of an open packet of digestive biscuits. Nothing and no one has been afforded substantial time and patience, and as a result one problem has simply rolled into the next.
While Darren Lehmann and Michael Clarke cannot correct years of administrative failings in the lead-up to the third Test, they can at least attempt to establish some semblance of calm to the setup.
Ever since the shock-filled squad for the India tour was named it seems as if Australia have been existing at 100 miles per hour. Always in a hurry—either to score runs, take wickets, finish matches, surprise people or shock people. They need to stop moving, stop making quick decisions, stop reacting and just take a deep breath.
Australia need to slow down.
They would be ill-advised, as many are proclaiming, to ask themselves "What would Border do?" or "What would Waugh do?" They must instead look at their opponents. Their modern, statistically-led, control-freak governed, robotic opponents and take heed.
Admittedly England are arguably too pedantic, too obsessive, too robotic. You wonder at times whether the natural evolution of Alastair Cook is as a toaster, or a hoover, or a calculator. Australia must not copy England. No two teams, like no two people, are the same. They should merely use England's principles to guide them.
Most importantly, Australia must realise that almost every short-term option is an ugly option—their cricket is in such a state that losing is fast becoming the only option. Right now it is the manner of losing that must be of importance to the current management. Australia must, as Rudyard Kipling's immortal words promulgated, treat triumph and disaster just the same.
This will gallingly entail a mindset in which defeat is almost pre-accepted, but for Australia, long-term planning should be the priority at this point in time. As England's robots would do, they must build a team, brick-by-brick and match-by-match.
Some consistency of selection would be a start. Players must be afforded time to establish themselves and prove themselves. Patience and trust plays a huge role in this, as must an acknowledgement that change for change's sake is futile. Only if an incoming player is likely to make substantial improvements on the returns of an outgoing player should chopping and changing be legitimised.
Then of course there's discipline. In the past fortnight there's been a lot of waffle from Australian players about "playing their natural games"—it might be worth considering whether their "natural games" just aren't very good.
Sure, flair and tenacity should not be totally extinguished, but Ian Bell for one has proven that reigning in natural instincts can be an important step to success. Phillip Hughes' 81 at Trent Bridge is another successful example.
At Lord's in England's second innings, Joe Root, Bell, Jonny Bairstow and Tim Bresnan mercilessly and calculatingly wore Australia's bowlers into the ground. There were no unnecessary shows of machoism or heroism, it was cold-hearted cricketing logic that thwarted the Australian bowling.
England's cricket is about minimising extremes. Perhaps fewer picture perfect cover drives are played than in years gone by, but there are also fewer airy-fairy-trying-to-be-perfect cover drives too.
In mathematics, the range is the list of numbers from lowest to highest. England's batting has minimised the range of awful to exemplary and has instead found some regular middle ground. The range is narrowed and the consistency is raised.
England are yet to play their best cricket in this series. And while that may be disheartening for an Australian side trailing 2-0, it at least offers them hope that if either a hero appears from the wilderness or their potential can meet fulfilment and responsibility, they might just catch England cold.
But sadly, that is easier said than done.
What is certain is that claustrophobic men stuck in lifts don't escape by panicking.
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