One swallow doesn't make an English summer

Written by: Sajith Balakrishnan
Published: Thursday, June 30, 2005, 11:17 [IST]
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English cricket has always survived on the basis of hype. A pointer in the case is the hype surrounding the greatest of all England-Australia battles - Ashes. Not a single ball has been bowled in the Ashes Test series that starts on July 21, but British media has already written obituaries about the Australian team. Surprisingly, Australian media too has joined the bandwagon.

Even in the past, Englishmen have overreacted to one-off victories and have shown reluctance to accept defeats. There is a general hearsay that while in defeat if others look for reasons, the Poms look for excuses. In the run up to the Ashes, world champions suffered few loses including the one against minnows Bangladesh that made English press go gaga. But much to their dismay, the Kangaroos are back to the winning ways.

A champion outfit that is used to the winning ways is at the receiving end when they suffer a few loses as the case of the baggygreens, lately. Ponting's men first lost a Twenty20 international to England, followed by a defeat in the hands of Somerset, as the Kangaroos failed to defend a mammoth total of 342. But, more was in store as they realized later in the NatWest series. Aussies lost to England and Bangladesh there. All these happened in week's time and the fourth estate were out with the knives saying Australia is going to lose the grip over Ashes.

But even as the press continued to write obits for the champion side of all times, the fortunes started turning in Australia's favour. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. In walked Andrew Symonds for whom life turned one full circle after a boozy night. The overnight villain became hero and he won two matches for the Aussies single-handedly. Symonds definitely seemed to have learnt a lesson or two from his mistakes which cost him dear. And he had the backing of his skipper, who himself had once suffered a similar predicament. Even otherwise, an Australian backlash was imminent. It was only a matter of when and where it happens.

As any wise souls, who are used to the glorious uncertainties of this gentlemen's game would tell you, it is too early to predict the outcome of the Ashes. English pundits are suffering on account of having jumped to conclusions. They tend to forget the fact that Australia were coming after a lay off. Though the Aussies looked a bit rusty in the beginnings stages of the NatWest Series, as the tournament progresses they are slowly getting into the groove and it won't be a surprise if Ricky Ponting holds aloft the NatWest trophy at the hallowed Lord's balcony on Saturday. Such has been their resurgence that even Pietersen, Flintoff and Harmison (the trio on whom rests the English hopes of regaining the Ashes) seem to have lost their way.

Australians have this uncanny habit of bouncing back in roaring style after initial blows. The same happened with Mark Taylor and later with Steve Waugh who conquered Ashes after similar unimpressive beginnings to their campaigns. So, in all likelihood, Ricky Ponting looks set to emulate his predecessors from the way things have gone so far and it looks rather unlikely for the Poms to succeed in preventing the 'Awesome Aussies' from defending the Ashes title for a record 10th time.

Australia is one those sides who live on consistency. They never sit on past laurels. Now the British press might be gunning for Shane Warne who has spilt up with his wife. Even if it affects his performance, Aussies will have someone else to fit into his shoes, like what Brad Hogg did in the World Cup 2003. They always have found the right man for the occasion.

The English camp is a study in contrast. They are beseted with problems of a different kind. From the injury scare of skipper Vaughan to their crisis man Thorpe's imminent retirement. Strike force Steve Harmison is yet to regain that form and fitness that saw him being catapulted to the top. And these days, Kevin Pietersen who hopes to get his first Test cap in the Ashes seems to be spending more time on his hair than on his willow. Hope he doesn't go the James Anderson way who promised much but failed to deliver.

So the countdown has started and the battle lines have been drawn for the Ashes. Watch out for some interesting tussle ahead. The Matthew Hayden-Simon Jones face-off in the recently held Edgbaston ODI has virtually set the tone for the Ashes series. Englishmen should bear in mind the fact that one odd victory is no recipe for success. And for the Australians, the defeat against Bangladesh has been a real wake-up call.

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