Mat Larkin writes:


If there’s a single characteristic which
defines Australia’s dominance of world cricket over the past two decades, it is
ruthlessness. Beginning with Allan Border on the 1989 Ashes tour of England –
and, some have suggested, ending with Ricky Ponting on the same tour last year –
Australia has deployed an unrelenting, all-out attacking style on the field which
begins with pre-series sledges in the media and only ends six weeks later with
the captain’s “they gave us a great fight” speech.

A good barometer of a team’s ruthlessness
is the way it approaches dead rubbers, those matches still to play in an
already-decided series. Australia, as it happens, has a very good record generally with dead rubbers,
but a very bad record with dead rubbers in Ashes series, losing a match after
winning every series between 1993 and 2005. There may be a basis here for a
scientific study on the effects of 40 Crownies in relation to the performance
of elite sportsmen, but that is beside the point.

The point is that England’s
lions are rampant again, and tonight is day one of the dead fourth Test in
their series with Pakistan. After drawing the first match, England have crushed Pakistan twice
– by an innings and 120 runs, then 167 runs – by making the most of their
backup players in a high-scoring series in which both teams have been without
most of their bowling stars. Charismatic and talented discoveries such as Monty
Panesar and sideline players like Ian Bell stepping up to fill the shoes of
Vaughn, Flintoff, Giles and others have inspired England to the kind of energy
levels they so often struggle to sustain.

This dead Test is England’s
last before the Ashes, and they can see its importance for their preparation.
Take the foot off the pedal now and England
risks arriving in Australia without the momentum, without the confidence of the triumphant
hunter.