Diego Maradona led Argentina to World Cup glory, with his hand. Sir Alex Ferguson was appointed manager of Manchester United. Mike Tyson demolished Trevor Berbick to become the youngest ever world heavyweight champion. Sebastian and Ana Maria gave birth to a one Rafael Nadal. The England cricket team embarked on Australia and retained The Ashes. Tina Turner received a star on the Hollywood walk of fame. The common demonator here? 1986, the last time a travelling England Ashes squad marched down under with genuine optimism of taking on the Aussies in their own back yard. Move the clock forward 24 years and English cricket may just be on the cusp of a similar fete.
England prevailed 2-1 the last time these two best of enemies butted heads. England’s preparations for this tour have been meticulously relaxed, adventurously calculated, and most importantly planned with reminiscence based on the last disaterous attempt to retain The Ashes in 2006/2007. In contrast Australia’s preparations have been far from stellar as most of their marquee batsmen appear to be struggling for either form or fitness, which has been reflected by the selectors picking an unprecendented squad of 17 for the first test. Please note this is more than England’s entire travelling squad.
However, before anyone prematurely ferrets their hard earned money over to the bookies, we have to remember what kind of dormant beast the England boys truly face. This is the Australian cricket team. This is the Australian cricket team trying to regain the Ashes. This is the Australian cricket team trying in regain the Ashes, down under. Australian athletes do not just perform well as underdogs, they excel with a capital ‘W-I-N’, it is simply inherent within the Australian DNA. It must be the water they drink down there. Conversely, English athletes traditionally struggle (with a few exceptions) to fulfil the expectations of being favourites. It generally seems to translate as a burden and not the desired motivational launch pad to explore the potential of greatness.
Ask any top coach and they will tell you success is bred from 10% ability, 90% mental toughness. There is a distinct difference between believing in a game plan and executing a game plan, just ask Audley Harrison (apologies to any A-Force fans out there).
Despite poor historical form and mental gym work, it doesn’t shadow the fact that the current crop of English talent are genuinely on good form both on the pitch and between the ears. The key battle has to fall between the English bowlers and the Australian batsmen. Not many of the English bowlers are experienced with the Kookaburra ball and Australian conditions. You have to be more patient as a collective unit in Australia. In England you might take wickets in clusters but down under you must adopt Mourinho-esque tact, sit in and bowl dot-balls to less attacking fields. Patience is key.
Swing is a developing concern from an English perspective as there is very little of it so far. However, the Kookaburra balls do assist in dramatic reverse swing therefore keep an eagle eye on James Anderson as he is currently one of the the true kings of swing. If the English bowlers can wrestle the initiative from the Australian batsmen it will generate confidence throughout the team and provide a constructive platform for the English batsmen to shine.
The battle between the two old enemies will be box-office and a monumental test of character for both sides. Will it be the Pommie bowlers throwing their hands up like they just don’t care? Or will the Aussie batsmen stamp down their authority and wave the tourists back to Britain with their tails between their pads? Unfortunately I left my crystal ball at home but I will certainly be glued to the TV screen come November 25th. 2-1 England?
Til next week,