Australia woes diminish England's achievement

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Whilst the nation revels in England's dismantling of an Australian team, that was previously so imperious, it must be noted that the English cricketers have not had to be that impressive, so woeful has Darren Lehmann's side been.

There have been moments of brilliance from those in an England shirt, ranging from Joe Root's imperious hundred in his first Ashes series to the two centuries compiled by Ian Bell. Graeme Swann and Jimmy Anderson have excelled with the ball, too.

But if, as expected, Andy Flower's men go on to retain the Ashes once again, it will be with the caveat that their opponents have been simply awful.

Shane Watson has a wince-inducing tendency to get himself out by repeatedly playing across the line. Phil Hughes, his anomalistic 81 not out in the first innings at Trent Bridge aside, has once again failed in England after humiliation in previous series.

And for all the understandable attention surrounding Ashton Agar after his magnificent 98 at Nottingham, the Test-class spinner within him has not yet emerged.

England's victory in 2005 was all the more satisfying because of its intrinsically hard-fought nature. Michael Vaughan, Andrew Flintoff et al had to overcome titans of Australian cricket in Shane Warne, Ricky Ponting, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist and Brett Lee.

These names roll off the tongue with a languid ease, such was their star billing and hence the euphoria at overcoming them. Yet the only world-class player in the current Australian side is captain Michael Clarke, an innovative general increasingly perplexed by the incompetence of his troops.

Attitudes towards our nemesis from Down Under are veering towards unprecedented sympathy. There is a patently obvious requirement for change within the side, but the only convincing options are Ponting, now 38 and retired, and Simon Katich, a grizzled 37-year-old who has fallen out with Clarke.

For all the fighting spirit that Australian cricket is supposed to espouse, there is to be no magic wand-waving to imbue these players with the requisite quality. Hughes will remain a mentally suspect batsman with a poor range of shots. Steve Smith will remain something of a bits-and-pieces cricketer unlikely to scare England's experienced bunch.

England captain Alastair Cook can only repeat the same old soundbites about avoiding complacency and respecting opponents. He is doing a good job of it, too; he has seamlessly replicated the cautious, meticulous template pioneered by his predecessor Andrew Strauss.

But in his heart of hearts, he knows that something would have to go drastically wrong for his side not to seal an emphatic Ashes victory. The capricious English weather and the potential for Clarke to grind out a significant score mean that the Aussies could snatch a couple of draws, or even a narrow victory.

But it is not disrespectful of me, as an Englishman, to say that Cook should lead his side to a 5-0 win in his first Ashes series as captain. The gulf in class between the teams is yawning enough for a whitewash.


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Phil Hughes
Joe Root
Michael Clarke
Ian Bell

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