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Aussies lay ghosts of past nightmares to rest.

Byline: By Paul Gilder

For all the weaknesses they have exhibited this summer perhaps the most surprising has been that in Australia's opening performances, the aura of unshakeable confidence which has been a key characteristic of their decorated predecessors appeared to have been severely diminished.

That the meticulous preparations of the finest force in world cricket were disrupted by sightings of a 14th-Century ghost at their North-East base was typical of what had been a haunting start to their tour.

The anxious Antipodeans had looked a nervous bunch prior to their arrival at the Riverside this week. Yet it needed much more than Lily of Lumley to spook Ricky Ponting and his players yesterday.

The NatWest Series champions of 2001 suffered the ignominy of arriving at Chester-le-Street winless and rooted to the foot of the one-day standings following last week's disastrous defeat at the hands of Bangladesh.

Perhaps even more painful had been the doubts raised about their cricketing prowess, their dwindling Ashes prospects and the strength of their characters. The tabloid savagery Down Under has been unbridled in recent weeks.

Having lacked the familiar swagger, the spirit and the sheer single-mindedness which has come to be expected of them ahead of this week, even their right to call themselves Australians had been brought into question. It was only a matter of time before there would come a backlash.

That the external sceptism would be allowed to pervade into the heart of the visiting camp always seemed unlikely. Australia have not established themselves at the pinnacle of the international game by allowing themselves to be affected by thoughts of self-doubt and, given all the negativity which has surrounded their summer in the UK, a positive response was inevitable. It came yesterday as England ( riding a wave of triumphant confidence ( were put firmly in their place. Those foolish enough to think that the visitors will surrender an Ashes crown they have worn for almost 20 years should think again.

The flair and flamboyance was lacking at times and Australia were solid rather than spectacular. But the determination to prove their critics wrong, the keenness to restore wounded pride and the need to settle some scores were tangible. The tourists may still not be at the peak of their form but Australia are starting to warm up fast.

When Paul Collingwood trudged back to the pavilion just moments after emerging, England were 6-3 and in danger of anihilation and humiliation. That the inevitable was delayed for so long was commendable given the aggression and accuracy they faced but such was Australia's self-belief, there was only going to be one winner.

If England are to strike back, there are lessons to learn from this. Up until yesterday, it had been the hosts who had possessed the greater spirit, the stronger wills and the all-important self-confidence.

For all of Steve Harmison's exploits with the ball, Kevin Pietersen's accomplished wielding of the bat and Paul Collingwood's contributions on both fronts, a change in attitude has lain at the heart of England's finest moments this summer. Despite this result, they must retain those qualities.

That the Australians will depart the North-East having exorcised their demons means little thought will be given to Lumley Castle's supernatural inhabitants for the remainder of the tour.

The spectre of defeat will no longer hang over the visitors and, for England, it will be raising spirits of different kind which will become the top priority.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jun 24, 2005
Words:574
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