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The England file: England can be beaten

John Buchanan, the architect of Australia's last Ashes triumph, believes Michael Clarke's team has the firepower to exploit England's dour and predictable game plan and return the urn to these shores.

Seldom do the former national coach and Shane Warne agree on anything but Buchanan shares the leg-spin great's view that England's tactics under Alastair Cook are boring and defensive.

While Warne would like to see Cook adopt more adventurous strategies, Buchanan believes that could trigger England's downfall as it does not have the personnel to successfully play a more attacking game.

Buchanan said England was ''not a great side, they're a good side'' whose only dangerous players were Kevin Pietersen, James Anderson and Graeme Swann, backed by ''solid'' types such as Cook, Ian Bell, Matt Prior and Stuart Broad.

He rates the likes of Clarke, David Warner, Shane Watson, Steve Smith, Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson as being equally as dangerous as England's most damaging trio.

''If they [England] change their game, Australia are in with a very good shout,'' Buchanan said.


''They don't have the players to do that. They've got a few dangerous players but they don't have the capacity and capabilities within their current group to be far more aggressive, to attack the bowling on a more regular basis, to attack batters on a more regular basis. They understand the type of game they want to play and have the personnel to deliver that, they haven't got the personnel to deliver something else.''

England's predictability was both a strength and a weakness, Buchanan said.

Although Cook, Jonathan Trott and Bell have all scored prolifically against Australia, England's only wildcard with the bat was Pietersen, Buchanan said.

''While it's all very well to occupy the crease, you still have to be scoring runs at a reasonable rate to keep advancing the game,'' Buchanan said.

''Their strategy is built on batting for as long as they can in either innings, preferably the first, and see where it's headed and try to control it from there.''

Buchanan is the last man to coach Australia to an Ashes success and, as New Zealand's former director of cricket, came within one wicket earlier this year of orchestrating what would have been Cook's only series defeat in five campaigns as captain. Buchanan wanted to see stroke-players such as Warner, Watson, Clarke, Smith and Brad Haddin attack England's bowlers when appropriate - particularly if the tourists fell into the trap of bowling too short in Australian conditions.

''The wicket at the Gabba is a mixture of patience and aggression,'' Buchanan said. ''The weather or greenness of surface means you reduce risk until you get in. That was the secret of Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden and all the guys who have played very well, in the main.

''They were patient enough to wait for the appropriate time.

''Equally, what has happened in the past, the bowlers who aren't used to the Gabba never get used to the right length. They tend to be a fraction short and the batters get the luxury of playing and missing or letting the ball go.''

Cook's strategy, while not exciting, has been successful for him, Buchanan acknowledged, but so too were Douglas Jardine's controversial tactics in the Bodyline series.

''It's not a style of cricket I like or admire or brings crowds back to the game. I don't think it's a form of entertainment, but as Cook has said, his job is to win games for England,'' Buchanan said.

''Jardine said the same thing in 1932 - his job was to win games for England - that would seem to be their primary purpose.

''These days, the ancillary element that goes with sport is entertainment. We're seeing it with all the commentary around Australian rugby, but you want to win with style and flair - that's ideal. But if you're not winning at all, then it's a completely different story. They've done it consistently through a range of countries, I don't see them changing.

''I just tend to think, if Australia manages to get that balance right, it could expose that strategy of England in the first Test.

''If they could get away with a win it would be huge for Australia and place a lot more of the microscope on England and its preparation and planning.''

The England File

How former Australian coach John Buchanan would tackle England’s key players.

ALASTAIR COOK - “You try to drag him on to the front foot and have him play through the off-side, particularly through covers. I still think he’s the sort of guy that while he plays the pull shot well he needs to be tested quite regularly with a high bouncer.’’

JONATHAN TROTT - “He hits the ball well through the on-side, so that off-side line you try to attack - fourth stump line. Use that short ball but use it with leg gullies, leg slips. Whether it’s superstitious or routines, I think there are real opportunities to speed things up because he likes to slow things down.”

KEVIN PIETERSEN - “He’s one of their dangerous players. He’s a person who wants to look for the ball, wants to get bat on ball, wants to get into the game so therefore you’re always keeping the ball away from him, keeping him out of the game as much as you possibly can and allowing that ego of his to want to take control. That’s where he becomes vulnerable.”

IAN BELL - “One of the big improvers. Technically a very sound player, he’ll play patiently and from the crease. Not too dissimilar to Cook. Setting the individual up through the bouncer or use the short ball to make the fuller ball far more effective.”

JOE ROOT - “He likes to play on the back foot, which means you want to bowl that slightly fuller length, try and take the ball away to the slips and to bring him on the front foot to play through cover. He will play the pull shot but I don’t think he gets into the right position to do that all the time. It’s a case of being patient and setting those deliveries up.”

MATT PRIOR - “His best form of play is being aggressive and getting bat on ball. Australia will size him up quickly. If he’s in the mode of wanting to attack, the ball will be kept away or pace taken off. If he’s in the mindset of wanting to defend he’s very vulnerable. In the last Ashes series you could see occasions he was muddled in his mind about the game he would like to play.”


JAMES ANDERSON - “Part of the deal is to tire him out and that means you have to bat a long time in first and second innings in the heat and harder wickets. If you bat time then someone like Anderson will become less effective as the series wears on because he’ll be physically worn down.”

STUART BROAD - “He does have the ability to swing the ball but he will be prone to bowl shorter than what he should be and that should present some good opportunities to the Australian batters, who play the cross-bat shot well.”

GRAEME SWANN - “One of their dangerous players. In England players were just unprepared to use their feet to him. They have to be prepared to use their feet, forward and back. I don’t see Swann in the longer game necessarily bowling well when teams are prepared to take him on.”