Aussies keep it simple
Updated: 2013-07-09 06:14
By Mark Ray (China Daily)
The Australians arrived in England in late May as a rabble and played like one in the Champions Trophy. This came after poor performances in India earlier this year.
Suddenly the administrators sacked the coach, replacing him with Darren Lehmann, a former Test player.
This happened about three weeks before the start of the Ashes series. Too late, many people thought. Yet improvements followed promptly.
Lehmann has the credibility that comes with on-field experience and not with a string of coaching certificates.
His arrival heralded a return to a simple approach that has served Australian teams well for almost 140 years: play hard, play to win, enjoy yourself on and off the field, believe in yourself and, when you're under pressure, counterattack.
Lehmann's predecessor, South African Mickey Arthur, had never played Test cricket and followed a typical South African approach: serious and so analytical that he struggled to make obvious decisions. It was never going to work.
Soon after Lehman's appointment, team spirit, selections and performance improved.
Will these changes be enough for Australia to stage an upset and regain the Ashes?
Australia has enough talent to beat England, but they will have to play at their best.
Australia's pace attack has skill and depth. The two certainties for selection in the first Test - James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc - are relatively inexperienced but they are tougher physically and mentally than they were a year ago.
They will be new to the pressures of Ashes cricket, but also new to England's batsmen.
If they bowl to their ability, Australia's pacemen can limit England's best batsman, captain and opener Alastair Cook. That would take Australia a long way toward success.
The big question is whether Australia's under-performing batsmen can play their part.
Lehmann made two key announcements on that front in his first few days as coach.
First, he said that Chris Rogers would open the batting.
Rogers might be 35 with only one Test to his name but he has made 60 first-class centuries in Australia and England. He knows more about cricket in England than the rest of his teammates combined. And he's a respected captain of Middlesex. Australia will benefit from his smart cricket brain and leadership qualities.
Second, Lehmann said Shane Watson would open with Rogers. Watson has been one of the most disappointing Australian cricketers of recent years. Lots of talent, heaps of hype, but not enough on the scoreboard. His best batting has come as an opener. He now returns to that role.
The battle between Watson and Rogers and England's best bowler, Jimmy Anderson, will be just as important as Pattinson and Starc versus Cook.
If the Australians can perform well with and against the new ball, and captain Michael Clarke's back holds out, they could spring a few surprises.
Whether they do or not won't change the fact that Australia is finally back on track.
Mark Ray can be contacted at email@example.com
(China Daily 07/09/2013 page22)