Warne and McGrath hold key to the Ashes
Interview by Scyld Berry
Berry: Sorry to wake you up, but at least it will get you into practice for mid-September when you get nightmares after losing the Ashes.
Chappell: ********! Not in my lifetime. I see similarities between England and Australia: both have 11 players including two left-handed openers. That's it.
Atherton: I gather you've been having a drink with Rod [Marsh]. What does he think about England's chances?
Chappell: He's probably got a slightly higher opinion than I have. I've said this for years: Australia's day of reckoning will come, not when the Waughs retire, but when McGrath and Warne retire. You can always produce reasonable batters but not champion bowlers. And it was a six-hour lunch.
Atherton: Did you think Strauss was any good two years ago when he was at the Academy?
Chappell (for once hesitant): Yea, y-e-e-s.
Atherton: You've never been diplomatic before.
Chappell: G'day, Andrew. Who had more to say in the last Test, Andrew Hall or Andre Nel?
Strauss: You always know you're in a contest here.
Atherton: Nel must play for love because he isn't going to make much money after the fines he'll have deducted.
Donald: The wickets have been good but I don't think I've seen any visiting player bat as well as Strauss with so many match-winning performances - not Lara, not Mark or Steve Waugh. To hit more than 600 runs in the series - he was the difference between the sides' batting.
Strauss (to Chappell): I remember the short-pitched drills you introduced us to at the Academy...
Berry: What sort of drills?
Strauss: Steve Harmison was bowling off 22 yards in an indoor net which was pretty quick and people like Robert Key were bowling from 12 yards. It was our first practice in Adelaide and every ball was a bumper, and Chappell very kindly said you're not allowed to duck and have to play everything. Actually it was a good drill because it made you realise you could hook more than you thought.
Berry: Talking of Harmison - he took nine wickets in the series. What went wrong?
Donald: I don't see anything technically wrong. I think it was the expectation of having the world No 1 tag.
Atherton: I think it was a confidence thing.
Donald: He's bowled well in patches - that spell to Jacques Kallis on the second morning in Cape Town was his best all series. But in general he was either too short or too full. He was a foot and a half too short, and too wide, whereas in England - and in Australia - he bowled awkward back-of-a-length which hits people on the knuckles and gets them caught off the glove.
Chappell: I always thought his biggest problem was his homesickness, that's always a difficult thing to overcome.
Donald: I like the way Duncan Fletcher and Michael Vaughan have stood by him. It's not panic stations, there's nothing majorly wrong.
Berry: And it hasn't helped his confidence that he's had more catches dropped - five - than any other bowler in this series.
Chappell: You can't afford to drop chances next summer. But the one area where Australia have slipped is in catching - from slips around to gully they are only average. But no one has punished them for their mistakes, and the bowling attack has let them get away by creating more chances than the opposition. When you've got Justin Langer in the slips, you're not going that well.
Atherton: There's not much difference between the sides in catching from what I saw of Australia in India last October - now England have got rid of Thorpe and Butcher. Thorpe's got 100 Test catches by the way, Chappelli. I'm sure you'd like to congratulate him.
Chappell: How many chances did he have? 200?
Donald: You always have the luxury of 11 guys playing well. What do England have to do to win the Ashes back?
Strauss: To me it just seems fairly simple. When you are coming up against a better side it's dangerous to go away from what's been successful for you. The real basis of our success over the last 14 months has been to play good positive cricket, to make big runs in the first innings, take early wickets with the new ball and get them under pressure. The Australians are 11 human beings and they can fold like anyone else, it just so happens they haven't been under pressure very often in the last four or five years. That will be the key.
Chappell: Andrew, I can remember at the Academy Alex Tudor asking why we always talk about Australia and not what we do well. That was sensible.
Strauss: That's exactly right.
Chappell: But to beat Australia you've got to stop them scoring 400 or 500 first up, then have them chase 250 in the fourth innings. That's when they've been found wanting a few times. I know it wasn't much of a pitch in Mumbai but you've still got to get 104! [Australia, bowled out for 93, lost by 13 runs to India]. The history's there and they are aware of it.
Strauss: Why is that the case?
Chappell: They're not unbeatable. They're humans who make mistakes and are more likely to do so under the hammer.
Berry: Didn't this trend of Australia choking start 10 years when South Africa with Allan won in Sydney?
Chappell: Allan will tell you Damien Martyn got a lot of grief for that, which was the biggest heap of horse-**** I've ever heard. It was the slow scoring early [by Australia's top order] which got them into trouble. Now they go out and smash it early, and in Mumbai their aggression smacked of panic to me.
Atherton: We must play better than we've done this winter. You could say it's a good sign England have won without playing to their potential, or a warning sign, but either way they must move up a gear. I hate to harp on a negative after a good win but...
Strauss: This winter we've had to learn that we won't have every game our way. But to come through bad innings and bad performances and still come out on top - you can take a massive positive out of that. As you say, Athers, there's that warning sign there that if you continue to get into bad positions you're going to start losing games...
Atherton: A better side than South Africa would have made you pay for being bowled out for 130 in Durban. But it's the bowling which has worried me. Last year it was better than I've seen for a decade. It was disciplined, it had a bit of fire-power, it was a five-man attack and relentless. This winter Hoggard and Flintoff have had to carry the attack.
Strauss: The problem is we've been inconsistent.
Atherton: In periods we've played like we can, but for too long we've played below par and we'll have to address it. The last afternoon of the series was typical when we did what we had to do to avoid defeat but still looked vulnerable.
Berry: Was the traditional deadlock between England and South Africa broken this winter more because England have improved or South Africa have declined?
Donald: In all sports we are going through a period of transformation and that puts unique pressure on the national teams. When England arrived we all said South Africa were going to get a hammering but it's been a ding-dong battle all the way through except for the last two sessions in Johannesburg. That was the defining moment. One man [Hoggard] bowled out of his skin but you should never be bowled out in two sessions.
Atherton: South Africa will always be tough to beat at home because their players are inherently competitive, but the quality's not there as it was five or six years ago.
Chappell: I saw South Africa in Sri Lanka last August and they were awful. Their bowling's the main problem. For a long time they had a bloody good attack, so when you see a South African side out-bowled by Sri Lanka's pacemen you sit up.
Donald: We've seen a lot of batting changes which is unhealthy. Boeta Dippenaar should have been told he had 10 Tests at No 5.
Berry: And, back to this summer, England are not going to win unless McGrath and Warne are injured?
Chappell: England are batting much more aggressively than before. But when that happens against Australia, they just brings on McGrath and Warne, they clog things up and eventually a wicket comes. England can't do that.
Strauss: Flintoff and Geraint Jones have smacked it around at four or five an over which puts a lot of pressure on the opposition and as a captain you don't know where to go.
Chappell: Flintoff murders a lot of spinners but he's not going to murder Warne. He might hit him for a few sixes but you can't keep belting Warney. He'll catch Flintoff off balance with his variety and subtle changes of pace. As for Geraint, can England afford a keeper who drops catches? You can get away with it against lesser sides but not Australia.
Berry: You wouldn't believe how much Flintoff bowled here, even when he was being patched up ahead of his operation, and how well.
Chappell: Next summer he'll bloody need to.
Berry: What should England's batting order be then?
Donald: Trescothick and Strauss should open - Tres has had an up-and-down series but he's a class player. As for No 3, Ian Bell is going to be a very good player, but you need experience there because the Aussies know how to exploit new arrivals. For weeks before the series McGrath and Warne will be working on a new player. So at three I think I'd stick with Butcher ahead of Key because he has serious experience.
Chappell: Strauss is a very good player, and a smart player, so he's got a chance to succeed against Australia. They'll try to work him out but he's adaptable. If Australia adapt to Trescothick and he's in trouble, he's not got much to come back with as he's got one way of playing. I saw some figures that Mike Kasprowicz got 42 per cent of his wickets against left-handers last year. And I'd play Key ahead of Butcher.
Atherton: There are areas of Key's game - when he gets forward and a long way across his stumps - which opposing teams will work on.
Berry: How do you compare the captains? Both have just had pretty lean years as batsmen.
Chappell: Everything I've heard about Vaughan's captaincy says he's pretty decent at the job, but I don't know why he dropped himself down the order. If his batting on England's last tour here wasn't the best I've seen from a visiting player, it was close to it. He took on the short stuff, he used his feet to the spinners. The main thing is forgetting that you're captain when you go in and think as a batsman, and I haven't seen enough to know if that's Vaughan's problem. Ricky Ponting hasn't batted badly, he just hasn't made hundreds.
Atherton: What sort of captain has he been?
Chappell: More Steve Waugh than Mark Taylor, who was a very good captain with flair - in other words, pretty conservative, and because he's a gambler off the field I'd hoped Ponting would take his gambling instincts on the field. He's been getting away with some things like not enforcing the follow-on.
One-sided Test series in Australia are a problem because you can't judge how good teams and individuals are. Malcolm Speed [ICC chief executive] keeps talking through his hat and saying the game's in great shape but there's a lot of uncompetitive cricket around.
Donald: In the Champions Trophy the first eight matches were terrible.
Strauss: Having just played four one-day internationals in Zimbabwe, there is no getting round the fact some international teams are much stronger than others. Nobody likes playing in one-sided games or watching them. I've seen Australia on TV this winter and quite a few of their games have been one-sided, which is a bit tedious.
Berry: So there's no magic formula for beating Australia?
Atherton: It's been a feature of England's wins in the last year that they've won the second half of Tests rather than the first half. After three days the teams have usually been about equal...
Chappell: England have improved a hell of a lot and the next series will be more competitive than previous ones. But you have to play well for 30 hours every Test. Pakistan matched Australia for a day and a half but they just couldn't keep it going and eventually Australia just wore them down. England have obviously learnt how to keep at it and keep at it but they can't expect Australia to wilt on day three or day four. The wilting might occur late on the fifth day. They're not the best Australian team of all time. To my mind, they're not even the best Australian team of the last decade - because of the catching.
"One-sided Test series in Australia are a problem because you can't judge how good teams and individuals are" Ian Chappell
On example is that it is quite problematic when it comes to judging how good Matthew Hayden is. He has certainly dished some serious punishment in the last few years - current form not withstanding - but because of the deterioration in the quality of bowling - compared to the 90s - hard to judge and rate his efforts.
This is a good England side with a lot of character.
You never know in a two horse race.
Australia will be huge favourites but they will be made to work for it.
what, they will have to hit a four to win the Ashes in this time instead of Eng winning a no ball?
Aus will win it in 12 not 11?
still be at least 4 tests to Aus barring rain and 10 injuries.