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  Sunday, 1 December, 2002, 22:54 GMT
Innovation the key for England
Former Australia captain Allan Border
Border won the Ashes for a third time in 1993

Fifteen years ago, Australian captain Allan Border sat in his dressing room listening to England celebrate retaining the Ashes, and said: "I don't ever want to feel like this again."

He didn't. And neither have any of his successors as Australia racked up eight consecutive Ashes victories.

England captain Nasser Hussain, who may well have been repeating Border's words to himself at Perth, said after losing the Ashes that he wants to learn from Australia.

He could do worse than study Border, who has been credited with dragging Australia from the dark days of the 1980s.

England have made progress in the last three years with Hussain and coach Duncan Fletcher instilling a positive team spirit and morale in the side.

England captain Nasser Hussain
Hussain must ponder England's future
The England and Wales Cricket Board have also copied Australia's much-vaunted Academy to prepare young players for Test cricket.

They have increased the number of central contracts to 20 to protect those players from the rigours of the county circuit in between Test matches.

And a chief medical officer has been appointed in response to a crippling injury list that threatens to undo much of Hussain and Fletcher's good work.

Cricket in England is finally being dragged into the modern era after some kicking and screaming, but more than 10 years after Australia blazed the trail.

Copying the Australian blueprint is a start, but England desperately need to introduce some of their own innovations if they are to live up to their ambition of producing the world's best Test and one-day sides by 2007.

Keeping up with the Joneses is one thing, but new thinking is needed to overtake them. Academies and contracts are not the only reasons behind Australia's success.

South Africa embraced the same ideas years ago, and have carved a niche as the world's second best team.


What do we do wrong in our cricket at home, in our lifestyle, the whole thing?
England captain Nasser Hussain

But the thrashing they took against Australia last winter highlighted the gulf that still exists between the two sides.

Hussain certainly believes that there are deeper issues to be examined in England.

"You've got to ask the question that if we're ever going to compete with Australia, how we are going to do it?

"What do we do wrong in our cricket at home, in our lifestyle, the whole thing?

"You can't just put the blame on county cricket, it's a lot deeper than that," he said in Perth.

A period of soul searching will inevitably follow the debacle Down Under.

The question remains whether the errors can be rectified and the improvements that will specifically drive the England team forwards can be identified.

And if Hussain or any other captain is to lead England Border-style out of their trough of despair, they will need a strong and committed management team to put the ideas into practice.


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