England close to retaining Ashes but eyes should be on bigger prize
England moved closer to bringing the Ashes back from Australia for the first time in 24 years on Tuesday as they reduced the battered hosts to 169-6 at stumps on day three of the fourth test, needing just four more wickets to wrap up victory and still with a lead of 246.
In all likelihood England will require just three more wickets with Ryan Harris off the field with a stress fracture to his foot and unlikely to be forced to bat in such dire circumstances for the home side.
England would do well to remember that victory, assuming a miracle Australian fightback does not deny them, is a mere stepping stone to potentially greater achievements.
Firstly, the team will want to win the series outright in Sydney next week but more importantly England should have their eyes on becoming the best cricket team in the world.
Sydney will be prove the litmus test of whether or not the players have learnt their lesson from Perth where they were obliterated inside three-and-a-half days having just smashed Australia in Adelaide in the previous test.
This time England will need to keep their focus.
I spoke to Andrew Strauss just before the team headed out to Australia, and what struck me about the man was just how confident and relaxed he was about England’s chances in Australia. Without a hint of arrogance, he told me that England no longer feared Australia. And how he and the rest of his team have delivered on his words.
Although this is not passing of the baton it might have been had England beaten the Australian side which boasted Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist et al in its ranks, it certainly shows Australia are sliding listlessly away from the summit of world cricket.
The question remains, can England rise towards its peak?
PHOTO: Australia’s Ricky Ponting is bowled out by England’s Tim Bresnan on the third day of the fourth Ashes cricket test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground December 28, 2010. REUTERS/Mick Tsikas