Ashes mercury rises as Aussies show spark
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A week on from Mickey Arthur's sacking, Australia's Ashes hopes seem to have brightened, if only to the extent that the dominant media assessment of their chances has gone from "ha ha ha" to "you can't take them lightly."
A lot of this has to do with how the Australians have performed in their warm-ups. Before the tour began, their bowling had looked in decent shape and their batting anything but. Now, halfway into their second tour game, eight of their batsmen have scored at least one half-century. Phil Hughes and Shane Watson, who had endured horror tours of India, have been their most productive run-getters. Watson, in his two innings so far, has cracked a 94-ball 90 and a century before lunch.
It was Darren Lehmann who restored Watson to the top of the order. It is tempting, looking from the outside, to think that Australia's newly appointed coach has also made Watson feel loved again. He certainly hadn't felt loved under Arthur.
In the wake of the discipline issues that rocked Arthur's regime — the axing of four players (including Watson), David Warner punching an English player in a bar — former Australian cricketers had been almost unanimous in denouncing his bureaucratic methods. They have already begun hailing Lehmann's influence, his 'old school' methods, his replacement of Arthur's 'wellness reports' with 'straight talk over a can of beer'.
It's easy to see why Lehmann, a former Test cricketer, would make a better first impression on former players than Arthur, who never played for his country, which happened to be South Africa. Praise for Lehmann has come from the likes of Ricky Ponting and Shane Warne (who were his teammates in the Australian team) and Michael Vaughan (who played alongside him at Yorkshire).
Keep in mind, however, that Lehmann's team have so far only played against Somerset, on a flat Taunton wicket, and Worcestershire, who play in Division Two of the County Championship. Keep in mind that they are still only guessing at the identity of their best top six. Reserve your judgment, therefore, till they have faced Anderson, Broad and Swann at Trent Bridge.