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   Sunday, 1 December, 2002, 10:59 GMT
England expects better

Not even the most one-eyed of optimists expected England to come to Australia and regain the Ashes this winter.

I do not go along with the 'best team ever' tag that some people attach to Steve Waugh's men.

But this is an outstanding unit that plays cricket aggressively and ruthlessly.

All the comings and goings, the to-ings and fro-ings have destabilised the trip

Its players hunt in a pack, as compared to so many teams that rely on one or two star performers for runs or wickets, and confidence is sky high.

Psychologically, Australia demolished England on the opening day at Brisbane when Nasser Hussain made the biggest blunder of his life and decided to field first.

Immediately, the initiative was handed to Australia and, from the moment Hussain honestly admitted his mistake, his position was undermined.

However, people were still entitled to have expected more than this: a campaign littered with injuries and the most spineless batting I have seen in a long time.

Of course some of the injuries were the result of bad luck - Simon Jones' cruel misfortune at Brisbane being an obvious example.

Nasser Hussain
Hussain's leadership was undermined in Brisbane
But the majority seriously call into question the medical advice that has been given to the selectors, as well as the professionalism of the England management.

Darren Gough and Andrew Flintoff were chosen as part of a high-risk strategy that spectacularly backfired and ruined the start of the tour.

Ashley Giles was struck in the nets at Adelaide by a fast bowler running through the crease.

And Chris Silverwood, coincidentally we are told, succumbed to an identical ankle injury to the one that blighted him at the end of last summer.

All the comings and goings, the to-ings and fro-ings have destabilised the trip and seriously affected the planning by Hussain and Fletcher.

One image today totally summed up this series: Hussain, dismayed at having been given out after a fiercely courageous innings, exploded in what he had every right to expect was the privacy of his dressing room.

Michael Vaughan
Vaughan's batting is one of few high points
Betrayed by a television camera, the captain's frustration illustrated his anger at the situation while, in the corner, a pair of crutches leaned against the wall.

That picture said everything about this disastrous tour.

There were one or two high points.

Although Michael Vaughan's fielding is still well short of the mark, his batting makes him the only player in the England team that is good enough to fit into Australia's.

Robert Key's character in this last match suggests that he has the right temperament for Test cricket and Richard Dawson has great courage.

And that's it: not much to show for what must be the shortest Ashes campaign in history.


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