Belfast Telegraph

James Lawton: Australia have lost that magic Ashes touch

There is something wrong about this Ashes series, something nagging, unfamiliar. It is a bit like turning a corner and finding that somehow the landscape has shifted without any kind of warning.

Four years ago going down to Adelaide was to run an Aussie gauntlet, one thrown down here in the big concrete stadium when the slaughter of England began with the clearest indication it would carry on all the way to the end of the road in Sydney.

It was intimidating, but it gave a wonderful edge and if the batting of Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood had been built on more intelligently, if maybe Monty Panesar had been picked in the first rush of his optimism and talent, who knows, England might have found the means to at least make a fight of it.

Today going down to Adelaide is, almost weirdly, just another journey.

Something has changed apart from the fact that England plainly is bringing more nerve, more sheer competence to the challenge of hanging onto the Ashes. What it is, it becomes clearer the more you reflect on these last few days, is the Australians.

No-one needs telling they are not nearly as good as when they had Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath.

Of course, you cannot replace such quality in a few seamless years, but maybe you can keep a certain way of thinking, the kind of intensity that has so long been the legacy of great Australian cricketers.

After England's Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott built another record mountain of runs on the last day, Australia's captain Ricky Ponting rejected the claim that his team had for several days been using a body language featuring almost exclusively the word resignation.

Ponting said that in his opinion the body language had been pretty good most of the time, but by mid-afternoon on Monday they were all looking up at the scoreboard and seeing the extent of the futility that faced them.

“One wicket for more than 500 runs is a pretty demanding score,” he said. He said it with a smile, but it was extremely small one.

Ponting did, after announcing that Doug Bollinger, who was controversially excluded from the first Test, and Ryan Harris would join the squad in Adelaide, concede that much of the Australian bowling was a cause for concern.

Peter Siddle, is presumably immune after his sensational hat-trick on the opening day, but long before Cook and Trott were called back to the dressing room Siddle's feat might have belonged to another age.

It is Mitchell Johnson who maybe suggests most strongly that something has indeed changed in the Australian cricket psyche.

Johnson lived through a nightmare here in Brisbane. He didn't get a wicket, he made a duck — barely a week after scoring a century and a five-for on behalf of Western Australia — and dropped Andrew Strauss when he was in full flow towards the century that would free him from the pressure that came with his third ball dismissal in the first innings.

Those who know him best say that he is a young man of great charm who just happens to earn around one and a half million dollars a year and long ago became an A-list celebrity — and that in his story we might just have seen an inkling why Australia may indeed be different now.

The worry, not just for the natives, is that something indeed may have snapped in one of the greatest sports traditions in the world. The old furies of Australian cricket were, after all, built on the assumption that there would always be another Warne or Ponting or McGrath impatient to make their way into the hearts of the nation.

The danger is that when a certain magic disappears it is not so easy to retrieve. Australian cricket has lost one superb generation and at the moment at least, it is not so easy to banish the fear it might just have been the last.

Belfast Telegraph

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