Marco Trevisiol | 12:04pm gmt 22 Nov 2010
Looked at from a historical perspective, the recently completed England v Aust A match in Hobart demonstrates better than anything else why the intimidation factor appears to have gone out of Australian cricket.
For many years, the great strength of Australian cricket wasn't just how its top team performed, but that it had a second XI that was so full of talent it was often argued it would be able to compete on the international scene. And their performances against England on previous tours over the last 15 years was ample demonstration of this.
The most famous example of this was on the 1994/95 tour when the then standard triangular one-day tournament saw Australia A included to join England, Zimbabwe and Australia. They then more than justified their inclusion by dismantling England in the final qualifying match to reach the finals ahead of them.
While this was perceived as a humiliating low point for England, considering the top 6 they were facing that match was Matthw Hayden, Greg Blewett, Damien Martyn, Michael Bevan, Justin Langer and Ricky Ponting, with the benefit of hindsight it wasn't a surprise. So strong was the standard of Australian batting during this period that Darren Lehmann - someone who probably would've walked into several international sides at the time - was dropped from the A side during the tournament!
In 1998/99 England played Australia A in a first-class match in Hobart and again they faced a highly imposing batting lineup that included Blewett, Elliott, Lehmann, Law, Bevan and Gilchrist. Initially things seemed to be going well for England as they plundered an injury-riddled bowling lineup which allowed them to set a challenging victory target of 376 runs in 78 overs on the final day. Considering they had experienced England bowlers like Angus Fraser and Dominic Cork in their lineup, at best it seemed all Australia A could do was bat out time. Instead, they humiliated the tourists as they not only chased down the target, but did so with remarkable ease - reaching the target with over 20 overs and 9 wickets to spare. Ironically enough it was the batsman with the lowest profile in the side - Corey Richards - who was part of the 345 run partnership with Blewett that sealed the match. And all this was achieved without Gilchrist having to face a solitary ball!
England again played Australia A in a first-class match in Hobart on their 2002/03 tour which saw long-term first-class stars like Blewett, Matthew Elliott, Jimmy Maher and Martin Love complimented by young talent like Michael Clarke as well as emerging paceman Stuart Clark. Despite it being only a 3 day match it appeared England were headed for another humiliating loss as Australia cruised to 3/353 declared, before skittling England for 183 and enforcing the follow-on. After losing three 2nd innings wickets cheaply, only a rearguard partnership between Robert Key and John Crawley avoided defeat.
In this context, it just highlights the significance of England's win over the weekend as they totally dismantled an opposition containing several players who'd made the 17 man Australian Test squad. After years of Australia's 2nd XI sides intimidating their opponents, it was the tourists who did the intimidating. Particularly impressive was their 2nd string pace attack who were superb in their discipline and mastery of reverse swing - indeed more so than Australian pacemen have been in utilising it recently.
Overall, England's largely dominant tour match form not only outlines what a serious force they will be in the Tests, but how weakened the depth in Australian cricket has become in recent years. And it's the latter revelation that is probably of more long-term significance.