Cricket: England ready to inflict maximum pain

By Scyld Berry

Nowhere for Australia to hide with test set to deliver chance of Ashes series revenge for the ruthless English.

Alastair Cook has been captaining England with ever-increasing assurance. Photo / Getty Images
Alastair Cook has been captaining England with ever-increasing assurance. Photo / Getty Images

No Hiding Place was a television series of the 1960s. It is also another name for a five-test series between England and Australia.

Therein lies the beauty of an Ashes series. And the cruelty. It is the time when the law of the jungle applies to cricket - the only time in this world of administrative folly where five-test series have otherwise been abolished.

In this coming pair of back-to-back tests, starting at Old Trafford on Thursday night (NZT), England have the chance of making their task in Australia this winter a lot easier - by seeking out and destroying one Australian cricketer after another, as many as they can.

If this sounds too cruel for sport, it is exactly what Australia have done to England through the ages, especially in the recent era when they were world champions.

Of Nasser Hussain's team in the 2002-03 series in Australia, no fewer than seven players never played a test for England again - the victims of Steve Waugh's policy of inflicting mental and physical disintegration.

Of Andrew Flintoff's team who toured Australia in 2006-07, four members never played another test for England, physically or mentally broken by the experience. As war veterans, they retired to the allotments of county cricket and tended roses.

Already in this series England have broken two Australians, one mentally, the other physically. Ed Cowan was dropped after the Trent Bridge test, having responded to the intensity of the occasion with two wildly extravagant drives. There was no hiding place: Cowan, like Mark Ramprakash among others before him, was too desperate to succeed.

James Pattinson was broken physically by England - and by his own teammates who failed to bat long enough to give him time to recover at Lord's. Here in a nutshell, or plaster-cast, was the explanation for why countries no longer enforce the follow-on: England batted for more than 100 overs in both innings, Australia for less than four hours in their first, so the overload resulted in a stress fracture of Pattinson's back that might also keep him out of this winter's series.

If James Anderson on his home ground can take down another Australian batsman, or Graeme Swann expose the inadequacies of his technique against spin, the tourists' cupboard is going to look rather bare.

They have too many clothes in it at the moment - 18 players illustrates the lack of conspicuous quality, and perhaps the confusion of their thinking - but not many clothes they can actually wear.

English cricket seldom does ruthlessness: They have never won four tests of an Ashes series in England. It is one reason why England clung on to No1 in the world test rankings so briefly, for only a year from 2011 to 2012.

But England have achieved the ruthlessness that they need to reproduce this week; when Ian Botham lengthened his run-up for one last hurrah back in 1985 and illustrated the benefits of doing to Australia what Australia have so regularly done to England.

Botham, backed by two fine spinners in John Emburey and Phil Edmonds, blew away most of Australia's top order in 1985; of their top seven in that series, four "sank", while only three "swam" and survived to contest the 1986-87 series.

Four young batsmen therefore had to be brought into Australia's side, and their inexperience - in playing spin at Brisbane and in playing swing at Melbourne - was fatal. It was by breaking so many of their batsmen in 1985 that England won the return series.

To inflict maximum damage on Australia this summer, and facilitate their task this winter, England need more of a collective performance than they managed at Trent Bridge and Lord's, where they were sustained by a few individuals.

With the bat, England need more from Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott, neither of whom has reached 60 so far, and from Matt Prior, who has been brought down to earth since his Auckland century saved the series in New Zealand. He has been batting like an Australian and has to start building his innings again.

Cook has at least been captaining with ever-increasing assurance. Given the cushion of a 2-0 lead, he might now relax enough to make his share of runs. Nobody can break so many Australian bowlers as Cook at his best.

Joe Root's versatility is a bad omen for Monty Panesar, too. In nine overs of off-spin he has dismissed three prime Australian batsmen, or as near as they come to prime.

Swann can do all the work required of a spinner in Australia's first innings, augmented by Root in the second, which obviates the need for a second specialist spinner outside Asia. But most eyes will be on the local lad made good, which should allow Stuart Broad to nip in for his 200th test wicket and a few more besides.

Anderson's virtuosity will be enhanced by his knowledge of Old Trafford, and it is already a wonder of the age. He has become a master-craftsman whose manual dexterity deceives us into believing that what he does is effortlessly simple.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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