England batsman Alastair Cook is amused by all the trash talk ahead of the Ashes and reflects on Australia’s potent bowling attack (1:26)
If any of the old adages are true – you know, the ones about empty vessels making the most noise and pride coming before a fall – then England are well placed to win the Ashes.
Certainly some in Australia have risen – perhaps sunk is a better word – to new levels of ferocity as the series has grown closer. Suffice to say, if the Ashes requires players talking about wishing to end one another’s careers to gain traction in the media, it is in a much worse state than any of us feared. Nathan Lyon will, you suspect, one day reflect on this episode with some embarrassment.
But as Floyd Mayweather (among many others) has taught us, these things do not always come back to bite and the fact is Australia go into the series as firm favourites. Their side has some holes, for sure, but it also has some serious weapons. They really don’t need the trash-talking and, you suspect, for most of them it doesn’t come naturally.
There is, to some extent, a sense of returning to the scene of an accident about England coming back to the Gabba. The sight of Mitchell Johnson – but not Mitchell Johnson as we had ever seen him before – charging in at the start of that 2013-14 series was spell-binding. It didn’t take long to know England were in real trouble. And, if that was difficult to watch from the perspective of an England supporter, it was assuaged by the knowledge that all present were blessed to see a magnificent spell of fast bowling that seemed to last all summer.
A first view of the pitch would appear to offer England no respite. It will, you suspect, be a typically good Gabba surface. The curator, Kevin Mitchell Jr, who is preparing his 27th – and last – Test track after 33 years at the ground, reckons it will offer decent pace and bounce and a little turn later. If England hoped there may be extra grass for their seamers, they will have been disappointed. It looks the sort of surface that will reward well-directed pace. It is a department in which Australia have a significant edge.
Most of this England squad weren’t born the last time England won here. And it is probably telling that the victory in 1986-87 was inspired by their great allrounder of the time, Ian Botham. Such a player has been lost to them this time for entirely avoidable reasons.
But most of this squad weren’t involved when England last lost here, either. And three of the four England players who were there – Alastair Cook, James Anderson and Stuart Broad – also have memories of being there in 2010-11 when England made 517 for 1 in their second innings. Not all the memories are bad. Not all the scars are English.
That was a point that everyone involved in the England tour party – the players, the management, the woman who makes balloon animals (really, there are dozens of support staff) – seemed to want to make on Tuesday. Whoever you bumped into offered the reminder: “England have won four of the last five Ashes series, you know. Including the last one.”
It’s a reasonable point. And one that leaves you wondering if some of the pre-series talk from the Australian players is designed to convince themselves as much as anything. If they were really confident, wouldn’t they let their cricket do the talking? Do they really want to model their pre-series talk on the example of Marlon Samuels?
Moeen Ali was sent out to face the media on Tuesday. He was a good choice, too, as he does a good line in affable self-deprecation that nicely defused any simmering antagonism that might have been lurking.
Asked about recent footage of Ben Stokes bowling in the nets, Moeen said: “I sent him a message saying that ball would be hit for six every day . He didn’t get back to my last message.” Asked about his own batting he said: “I’ve played some horrific shots in the past.” And asked about his bowling, he admitted: “Most teams come after me and try to attack me. I don’t mind.” Questioners were disarmed; provocateurs wrong-footed. Lyon may be the better spinner on the pitch, but off it?
England had reinforcements at their training session on Tuesday. With the Lions also training in Brisbane, their bowlers were invited to bowl at England’s batsmen in the nets at the Gabba. The result? Several young, fast bowlers trying to impress the watching coaches. It may have been slightly uncomfortable for the batsmen, but it was probably exactly what they needed ahead of the challenges to come later in the week.
Mark Wood stood out. He bowled sharply and he did so for a sustained period of time. It remains possible he could play a part in this series. Perth is an obvious target.
Stuart MacGill, the former Australian legspinner, was also present. He is monitoring a few young spinners (Delray Rawlins, Matt Critchley and Matt Parkinson) the ECB have sent out to Sydney for the winter and was flown to Brisbane for a few days to work with some of the more senior players, predominantly in the Lions squad.
Meanwhile, Trevor Bayliss’s suggestion that the ECB and CA get together to provide better pre-Ashes warm-up schedules appears to have been met with some wry amusement by CA. Insiders point out, with some justification, that Australia rarely, if ever, get to play on Test grounds in England before the Ashes begins and that they are invariably asked to play counties towards the bottom of Division Two. Bayliss, to be fair, has always said both sides were as guilty as one another and merely asked for the boards to talk for the betterment of all concerned. It doesn’t seem such an unreasonable request.
It is moments like this, perhaps, Bayliss’s qualities come to the fore. Whereas, four years ago, England became tense and tetchy, he remains as calm as ever. The opposition may be furious, the stakes may be high and the audience vast, but Bayliss has created an environment where his team remain quietly good-natured and hard-working. It counts for little once the cricket starts but, given their imperfect preparation, England are probably just about as well-placed as they could be going into the series.
Source: ESPN Crickinfo