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It's back to the days of Border

Judging from the size and nature of England's two defeats, you might assume that this Australian side contained all the talents of the great Aussie teams of the 1990s and early 2000s. But the truth looks more prosaic, suggesting a highly motivated side much stronger in bowling than batting.

If that assessment is accurate, it means England ought to be able to fight back and stem talk of the 5-0 whitewash that befell it here just seven years ago.

Of course, that was a very different Australian team to this, being a freakish aggregation of stars all determined to go out on a high and not have their legacy muddied by an opponent they had generally crushed except in 2005, when a thrilling series went England's way by two games to one.

Michael Clarke's side is producing some excellent Test cricket at present. But has it improved substantially since the summer when it lost 3-0 in England, or is it exceeding its potential as players and teams do from time to time?

On their performances in Brisbane and Adelaide, the pace trio of Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris stands comparison to the best Australia has produced since the Lillee/Thomson era on the 1970s. Teams containing Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie probably shaved them, too, but they often had Warne working his magic and that produced fringe benefits the present attack does not get from Lyon.

Lyon is its best spinner since Warne, but no better than Tim May and only just better than Greg Matthews, two who played for Australia when it was last thought to be in a rut in the mid-to-late 1980s. That nadir, in which two successive Ashes series were lost, was ended by Allan Border's 1989 team, which resembles Clarke's team in composition as well as situation.


Andy Flower said he and his players had expected Australia to be tougher yet they still appear to have been taken aback by the ferocity of their opponent. In 1989, Border's side was similarly aggressive. Starting with a rule that forbade any fraternising with England players until the series was over, his team played hard, sledged hard and with the home side wrong-footed, proved hard to beat. It is similar now, even if the players appear to be on talking terms off the field. Border's pace attack of Merv Hughes, Geoff Lawson and Terry Alderman were the Johnson, Siddle and Harris of their day. Even the composition of the batting was similar with Border, the captain, being the dominant player who had long carried his team, as Clarke has done despite his bad back. They even had David Boon - a stocky, aggressive opener like David Warner - setting the tone.

Where the two teams differed was in the selection of relatively younger talents in 1989 such as Steve Waugh, Mark Taylor and Ian Healy, who all became mainstays of the great sides of the next decade.

Waugh made his first hundred in the opening match at Headingley, his 27th Test, and it opened the floodgates. By contrast Clarke's team has seven players over 31 in what seems to be a deliberate pooling oftoughness that is proving inspired. The current batting line-up is possibly one of the weakest since the mid 1980s, with a reliance on Clarke and, so far this series, Brad Haddin. A previous period where Australia was weak but then hauled itself back to winning ways was 1971-72. Ian Chappell masterminded that renaissance though it took a drawn series, in 1972, before England was blown away by Lillee and Thomson in 1974-75. Chappell and Border are very different characters to Clarke, but not so different from Darren Lehmann, who is setting about restating the four pillars of Australian cricket - aggression, attacking batting, disciplined fast bowling and excellent fielding.

Derek Pringle is a former England Test cricketer.