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Shame to think an after-match beer could suggest vulnerability

So there I was in the Australian dressing room, a privileged place indeed, after the Test match had been secured in Adelaide on Sunday afternoon. Shane Warne, the thin, had suggested a beer and Steve Waugh, the uncompromising, didn’t seem to mind much, so who wouldn’t have given it a go'

At the table in the centre of the room Alec Stewart was nattering away to Adam Gilchrist and Justin Langer. Others of this very fine team were glued to the television coverage of the Australian Open golf in Melbourne, which was being fought to the death by two tyros of their own — Steve Allan, the eventual winner, and Aaron Baddeley, who took the title last year.

But there were no other Englishmen. It doesn’t happen much any more, the sharing of a drink with the opposition even after the battle is done.

What a shame! How narrow to think that mateship suggests vulnerability or the giving of ground. Far from it, it was the point of the whole thing in the first place.

It is dangerous to take oneself too seriously in sport and this may not dawn on today’s players until tomorrow, when it will be too late.

You do not need to be a rocket scientist to see that some of England’s players are intimidated by the Australians and that this has contributed to their defeats.

Talented cricketers who blossom against other countries, or in a less demanding environment, have become shrunken violets in Adelaide and Brisbane.

Spend social time with the victors and you will see their human side — a smile instead of a scowl, even a hint of tenderness within the tormentor. Next time you cop a mouthful in the middle you can answer back, or just smile to yourself, safe in the knowledge that Bloggs or Brown, Warne or Waugh have to go to the lavatory just like you, the vanquished, have to do.

Anyway, during this riveting half an hour Waugh said something worth repeating: “Take the best players out of the Pura Cup [the first-class equivalent of County cricket] and the standard isn’t much different.

I reckon County cricket is pretty good. There’s certainly plenty of talent around. The English spend too long saying how great everything is in Australia and not enough time focusing on the good things they’ve got over there.”

Well, that pricked up a few ears. Warne did not absolutely agree, citing the elements of intensity, discipline, desire, passion and — wait for it — camaraderie as crucial distinctions in the Australian game. “But, yeah, there’s not much difference in raw talent,” he concluded. As a broad principle, Australian cricketers think that English cricketers have lazy minds, a tendency to make excuses and are given too much, too young.

This — and they are right — leads to sloppy performances, particularly when under the cosh. Duncan Fletcher knows this, but not what to do about it, because County cricket is so entrenched in its way. I heard Rod Marsh, the coach of the Academy, speak the other evening and he said much the same, if in different words.

Glenn McGrath came over to wax, not especially lyrically, about his miracle catch before saying how much he enjoyed playing at Worcestershire and insisting that English cricket wasn’t so bad.

“The team have proved themselves in different parts of the world in the last couple of years. It’s just that they’re playing a great side here, a side who are a privilege to be a part of.”

This famous old South Australian dressing room was filled with an agreeable air of pride and satisfaction in a job well done. “We had to work hard,” said the captain.

“England had us covered on the first day. We’re playing really good cricket at the moment. It’s nice to have all the guys in form at the same time, it’s what we aim at.”

No big-heads, no loud-mouths, just a self-assured maturity that reflects a side in which only two are under the age of 30 and all of whom are comfortable in their own skin.

This is a rare and enviable state for a sports team, to boast such harmony and mutual respect. So there I was in the Australian dressing-room, a privileged place indeed, after the Test match had been secured in Adelaide yesterday afternoon.

Shane Warne, the thin, had suggested a beer and Steve Waugh, the uncompromising, didn’t seem to mind much, so who wouldn’t have given it a go'

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