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   Monday, 6 January, 2003, 11:21 GMT
Slow out of the starting blocks
England celebrate victory in the final Test
England's win in Sydney was too little too late
Thrasy Petropoulos


While Australia continue to petition for the Ashes to be displayed in their country, England may wish to suggest an amendment of their own for future series between the sides.

From now on, perhaps, the real competition should start only after the battle for the famous little urn has been decided.

It is just possible that then we willl be able to enjoy a contest worthy of the name.

Since England last won the Ashes 16 years ago, their record while series have been alive is atrocious - played 28, lost 21, won 1 and drawn 6.

Once beaten, however, they have played their best cricket, winning six times in 15 Tests, although that is one fewer than Australia.

Steve Waugh holds the replica Ashes aloft
Australia still have the trophy

Such a record represents a triumph of sorts and any triumph - however tenuous - is to be celebrated during such barren times.

Rather than focus on how Australia have relaxed their standards once their work has been done (as undoubtedly they have), it is perhaps more worthwhile to look at how they have been beaten.

Twice there have been exceptional individual performances, the likes of which are unlikely to be repeated.

In 1997, Phil Tufnell exploited a sharply-turning Oval pitch to the tune of seven for 66 and four for 27 as Australia were shot down for 220 and 104 to lose by 19 runs.

And two summers ago, Mark Butcher played the innings of a lifetime at Headingley (173 not out) to help England chase a target of a target of 315.

But on the four other occasions when England have beaten Australia during "dead" rubbers, they have done so in a very English manner.

Quite simply, England's swing and seam bowlers have outswung and outseamed Australia's.

Hoggard dismisses Brett Lee
Hoggard's return to form was crucial

Matthew Hoggard's tour could hardly have got worse - one Test wicket for 248 - so he relaxed his shoulders and resolved to enjoy the warm and humid Sydney air.

So much so that he rediscovered the swing with which he made his name and returned four for 92 - an equally important contribution to England winning than Andrew Caddick's 10 wickets or Michael Vaughan's 183, given that it came in the first innings.

The same was true for Dean Headley in Melbourne 1998/99.

First-innings figures of nought for 86 and an Australian target of 174 for a 3-0 series lead were hardly the ideal combination for the confidence of an opening bowler.

So Headley relaxed, did not allow himself to get flustered when Australia reached 103 for two and promptly returned a career-best six for 60 as England won by 12.

And so the story goes on.

In 1994/95, just after they had lost their talisman Darren Gough through injury, England came back to win the fourth Test by 106 runs with an incisive last-day performance by Devon Malcolm, Chris Lewis and Angus Fraser.

And in 1993, when the trend for consolation victories was set, Fraser and Malcolm were again to the fore with 14 wickets in the match.

Caddick applauds the England supporters
Andy Caddick made the final thrusts

Even more important, however, was an exceptional performance of typically English seam and swing bowling from a Welshman, Steve Watkin, who returned four for 65 in the second innings.

And so back to Sydney 2002/03 and the latest instalment of England's record of arriving at the fight once the contest has been decided.

Out came Australia - weakened in bowling, but not batting - needing 452 to complete a whitewash or survive four sessions to draw.

Out, too, came Andrew Caddick, relaxed and smiling for a change.

Figures of seven for 94 later and, finally, there truly was something to smile about.

All the news ahead of the 2002/03 Ashes tour

Tour in review

Test series

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Links to more The Ashes stories are at the foot of the page.


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