England's players are even getting the better of their opponents when it comes to sledging.
Matt Hayden, the archetypal bully boy, has always been the worst Aussie offender. He just stands at slip and abuses every opponent. But he?s met his match this time.
Hayden can?t get a run and has lost his physical authority. He appears diminished and Michael Vaughan is winding him up cleverly.
When Hayden?s batting, Vaughan sidles past and slyly says: ?I reckon you?ve really got to get some runs today, or you?re in trouble.?
Hayden spits feathers at the wind-up, but he knows that Vaughan is telling the truth. When he was dismissed cheaply for the second time at Trent Bridge, Hayden stormed back into the Aussie dressing-room and trashed his own fast bowlers.
He demanded to know why they couldn?t pressurise the English batsmen in the way that Freddie Flintoff and the rest were doing to him. That wasn?t a particularly smart thing to say to your own team-mates and confirms why Hayden isn?t particularly popular in any dressing-room, including his own.
England?s players can now hardly keep the smirks off their faces when Hayden struts out to bat.
Shane Warne is hacked off because his wonderful efforts with bat and ball aren?t stemming the tide. He will keep trying because he?s that sort of sportsman but umpiring decisions have gone against him and he misses the control and guile of the injured Glenn McGrath.
He?s been heard to say that he can?t do it all himself and in his heart he knows that only his lurid private life prevented him being Australia?s captain in the past five years.
He and Ponting know that Warne would have been a better captain than the current incumbent and that Vaughan is running rings tactically around Ponting.
I?ve been amazed at the complacency of the Australians. Last Tuesday, after Warne had told the media that we were going to see some special individual performances from the Aussies in the forthcoming Test, their training session was poor.
The coach John Buchanan watched the lacklustre fielding drills and failed to stop the session, hand out a rollicking to get them concentrating harder and get them back on track.
It was a curiously passive effort from the coach and the players are now relying on their own pride in performance to bounce back at the Oval.
Many good judges in Australian cricket feel that Buchanan is a bit of an imposter, a geek who spouts trendy nonsense about ancient Chinese proverbs and that his time is up as the coach. This might be the tour that finishes him.
Mind you, the Aussie players haven?t all lost their sense of humour. Brett Lee, a highly likeable character and doughty competitor, has smiled his way around England and enjoyed the banter with the crowds.
And Justin Langer, at the press conference last Saturday night drily remarked: ?Of course, you English are so much cleverer than we Australians ? after all, you have the Barmy Army.?
Langer was astute to spot the one jarring note for me in this memorable series. Some sections of the English support have been yobbish, foul- mouthed and unfairly disrespectful to the Australians. Why do they feel the need to boo Shane Warne when he comes on to bowl or walks out to bat? One of the greatest players of all time deserves better than that, even if he does go over the top when appealing to the umpire.
Mike Kasprowicz is one of the most decent, pleasant men in cricket, liked by all in the fraternity yet he was talking the other day about how he has been abused on this tour.
He was walking down the street with his wife when for no apparent reason, two yobs climbed into him.
Jason Gillespie, out of form, has copped some shocking abuse on the boundary edge. This a bowler who has taken over 250 Test wickets, coming back from a series of dreadful injuries year after year. Where is the respect for him?
Ricky Ponting and Simon Katich were out of order in swearing audibly as they went up the Trent Bridge pavilion steps after being dismissed and they were fined. But what about the Nottinghamshire member who hurled vitriol at Damien Martyn in the first innings after he?d been the victim of a shocking umpiring decision?
Martyn didn?t make a fuss at his second bad decision in a row, but that Notts member still saw fit to give him a volley. I hope he?s caught on CCTV and banned from Trent Bridge.
If Australia do manage to fight back at the Oval and retain the Ashes, I hope cricket lovers will acknowledge the deeds of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Adam Gilchrist on their last tour of England.
After all, one of cricket?s great attractions is that you can appreciate the qualities of the opposition while still hoping your side comes out on top.
Ponting's men are truly rattled
The Oval Test is going to be the biggest sporting event in this country since the World Cup Final in 1966.
You just know that cricket is gripping the nation when Radio Five Live devotes the first hour and a half on yesterday?s phone-in programme to the events at Trent Bridge and the wider implications for the game itself.
The programme posed the question: ?Is cricket the new football?? and featured live press conferences with Duncan Fletcher, Matthew Hoggard and Ashley Giles.
Now a Fletcher presser is usually one for the connoisseur, but even the Impassive One sounded mildly excited by the prospect of the Ashes passing into England?s hands.
Then the Essex captain and former England all-rounder Ronnie Irani demanded that the Government should decree Bank Holidays for the duration of the Oval Test, so that youngsters could sit in front of the telly with their parents, cheering on England. What is going on?
Excellent coverage by Channel 4 has helped broaden the appeal of Test cricket while the players have conducted themselves like mature adults, remaining accessible to the public ? and above all, played positively, with just the odd human fallibility to keep the pulse rate ticking abnormally.
There is no doubt that the Australians are rattled and surprised at the quality, heart and morale of this England side. If we?re honest, the vast majority of the media corps is as well.
Ricky Ponting?s hissy fit after getting run out on Saturday underlined the fissures and tensions in their camp. He was fundamentally right about England pushing the envelope of substitutions so far - remember how often Vikram Solanki got on the field during the one-day series as substitute fielder? - but he chose the wrong day to make his point so forcefully. Simon Jones was genuinely injured this time, which brought in Gary Pratt who ran the captain out so brilliantly.
Ponting lost it because he can now imagine what sort of reception he?ll get when he returns home after losing the Ashes. There aren?t enough false beards and dark glasses in Tasmania for him to hide behind when he returns to the Apple Island. Australians don?t warm to losers, as Kim Hughes discovered after Ian Botham?s remarkable deeds in 1981.
That same Saturday night at Trent Bridge saw another remarkable piece of behaviour by an Aussie player. Justin Langer was waxing lyrical in his press conference when he was asked whether the issue of substitute fielders was a smokescreen, designed to obscure the fact that the Aussies were coming second in the series. A perfectly reasonable question, framed respectfully, but Langer threw a massive wobbler.
He raged that it was the most ridiculous question he?d ever heard, and continued to chunter on for a few minutes. Then it dawned on him how silly he?d behaved and when the presser broke up, walked over to the English reporter who?d put the question to him and started to apologise fulsomely. The love-in lasted for about five minutes and ended in sweetness and light.
But there was more to come. No sooner had the journo walked back to the press room than his mobile phone rang. It was Justin Langer. He?d somehow got hold of the number and continued to apologise to the reporter! In the end, he had to tell Langer he was busy and would have to get on with meeting his deadline.
When sportsmen start worrying about upsetting those who ply a rough old trade, you know they?re losing their focus.
Baros could be bad news for Angel at Villa
One match doesn?t make a football career but Milan Baros? debut for Aston Villa couldn?t have been more encouraging.
He looked sharp against Blackburn on Saturday and his intuitive understanding up front with Kevin Phillips promises great things. Whether Juan Pablo Angel agrees is another matter. He could find himself down the pecking order and can have no complaints after a fallow season last year.
Baros wasn?t used properly at Liverpool. He was left to forage alone up front too often and lacked support. At Villa he and Phillips should dovetail well ? Phillips the natural predator, Baros the craftsman with pace and enough about him in the air for the flick-ons to the smaller man.
They?ve always loved their goalscoring centre forwards at Villa Park. From Gerry Hitchens to Andy Gray, then Peter Withe, Gary Shaw and, for one season two years ago, Juan Pablo Angel. They don?t forget the failures like Stan Collymore, Bosko Baliban and Peter Crouch.
The Holte End are desperate for a new idol, whether he comes from Great Barr or Vladivostock. The days are long gone when a local lad like Gary Shaw who supported Villa since childhood could wear the claret and blue shirt with such pride. Now the fans are happy just to see a player excite them.
It?s been a long time coming but Baros might be the man because his quality is unmistakable. At a fee of #6.5 million, he might prove to be a bargain and move David O?Leary?s management on to another level.