In my life, I’ve never actually experienced the Aussies under the sort of
pressure in Ashes that they are now. I was born in 1989, and they’ve banged
us every series, 2005 notwithstandin

g, in that period. My dad used to say
that you never beat the Aussies. You may win against them, but you never
beat them (I guess he meant into submission, retreat, etc.). This isn’t as
true as it was. This is an Australia team full of guys that either partook
in, or grew up watching, unbelievable dominance in the late 90s and early

Ed Smith, who with the passing of Bob Woolmer is one of the sharpest brains
in the game, and on the planet, makes an interesting point (standard for
him) in his book playing Hard Ball: He says he always believed he would play
for Kent. But it never occurred to him that he would sometimes *fail* for
them. The same is probably true of every member of this Aussie team. Pontingis the only one who predates world domination.

And it’s really affecting them. There’s an insouciance, an ill-placed
remnant from the past, about the way Australia play now. Whereas before it
seemed like justified swagger, now it seems like the lack of a will to apply
themselves. When they are good, they are still unbelievable, and probably
better than England, man-for-man. But they play like a team with no
awareness of its own fragilities. Five batsman got out to the pull shot in
the 1st innings. Mitchell Johnson, who arrived with a rep the size of his
muscles, has faltered hugely. Interestingly, Australia’s best two bowlers
have been the ones with the biggest inferiority complexes. Hilfenhaus has
bowled beautifully this test. So has Hauritz, who I’ve cussed up a lot, but
who must have huge balls to dislocate a finger, bat well, bowl when it must
have hurt like nothing else, try and take a dangerously low catch, and get in the way of a Flintoff pull shot.

England meanwhile, chastened by their defeat in 2006-7, and various debacles
aside, are relishing the new experience of pressuring Australia. Even
carrying an out of sorts Bopara, a distracted Pieterson, and a bowler who
doesn’t warrant selection (Broad), they’ve gelled well, and have done
everything asked of them. Australia have a big job on their hands. They need
big men to bat and score big for them. They used to have Steve Waugh and
Justin Langer to do that. Over to you, Phil, Pup, and Mr. Cricket…