THE ASHES: MALCOLM KNOX – Lessons from the Tests

Seven random thoughts while watching a Test match get washed down a London gutter.

1. Shane Warne is the ex officio Melbourne Tsar of Australian cricket.

Stealthily, in disguise as a television commentator, Warne has crept into a position of influence over the Australian Test team. Recall the recommendations of the February Warnifesto. Mickey Arthur to go as coach and Darren Lehmann brought in. Check. Rod Marsh to head selections. Check. Ed Cowan out. Check. James Faulkner in. Check. Nathan Lyon receives backing as spinner. Check, eventually. Granted, the Warnifesto didn’t foresee the return of Brad Haddin and Chris Rogers, but through his influence with Lehmann and Michael Clarke Warne has exerted a sway on tactics, selections, batting order, and other subtle changes. This is an effective guerilla use of Warne’s cricket nous. Don’t put him in a team tracksuit, don’t pay him or expect him to fulfil obligations, just pick his brain.

2. Watson and Clarke are each other’s ball and chain.

Captaincy, back problems, losing series, England’s bowling, self-imposed expectation: of all the pressures on Clarke’s form as a batsman, none has been greater than that placed on him by the shortcomings of his teammates. Watson’s 176 at the Oval (along with Chris Rogers’ and Steven Smith’s centuries lately) will be Clarke’s medicine. Once he has confidence in others, the weight can shift from his own shoulders. He has backed Watson to the hilt through this series, for their mutual benefit. Their destinies are tied together. What’s good for Watson will be good for Clarke.

3. Mickey Arthur was right.

Australian cricket is an old boys’ club. You can be the world’s greatest genius as a coach, but the moment things go wrong, someone will curl his lip and ask, ‘And how many Test matches have you played?’ That is the fundamental building block of credibility. It’s also why no players read newspaper journalism, thank goodness.

4. Mickey Arthur was wrong.

To take a team to England on an ”intelligence gathering” journey, a journey to build their confidence, a journey to inner peace, a journey that is more than the destination, is all very enlightened, but it’s not an Ashes tour. Lehmann’s main input as coach was to state the goal was not self-improvement, but winning.

5. Boof needs a new nickname.

It’s a nice wheeze for a radio station. Get a prominent official to say what he thinks, pay him a fee, and then when he gets fined, pay it for him because bringing the game into disrepute has been worth more than that to you in publicity. Triple M was the big winner from Lehmann’s comments about Stuart Broad (unless they get sued for defamation). Lehmann has already suffered for his reputation for good living, when his mates in the Sky Sports booth stitched him up, saying he was missing balls at morning catching practice because he’d been at Beefy’s barbecue the night before. Lehmann was ropable, saying he had an early night. But when it’s widely said that the coach loves a beer, the next time he does something loose in public, the audience begins to ask: how many? How much love? In these wowserish times, a rather more sober moniker might start the image repair. Hint: Don’t go with Peter.

6. England may be un-English, but they’re still un-West Indian.

The way they danced around their handbags at Trent Bridge and Lord’s portended the timid tactics of the later matches. England’s winning style is all their own. They specialise in irritation more than intimidation. Yeah yeah, look at the scoreboard, we’re bitter, we just wish we had a chance to dance around our handbags.

7. The umpires have had a good series.

What the $^&%????? Did he really say that? But look at the stats. When Australia has referred decisions to DRS, the players have been right six times, the umpires 21. England’s rate is similar. The great majority of umpiring decisions have been correct. Aleem Dar’s big blooper in Nottingham has been balanced by many good decisions. Kumar Dharmasena has done well. Marais Erasmus outperformed himself after a bad start. Now they need to apply some common sense on over rates and bad light. While they’re at it, they could do something about this doctored, home-town weather.