I admit it. I’m not optimistic about England’s chances this winter. I’ve seen too many Ashes tours go wrong to expect anything less than a good kicking. However, I don’t think it’s a done deal. Australia aren’t particularly good either. The unexpected selections of Paine and Marsh show that their XI is somewhat in flux and their confidence might be a tad brittle.
Because of this, I don’t think it will take too much for England to turn what is usually a huge disadvantage – the raucous and none-to-polite Aussie crowds – into an advantage. If Australia start badly and can’t win at the Gabba (like they failed to do in 2010) the vociferous crowds might turn on them. And this will ramp up the pressure on an Aussie team that’s already irked the locals with leftfield selections.
Those of us who have seen Ashes cricket in Australia first hand know there’s usually a vocal contingent of lager louts. Australian crowds are mostly well informed and know their cricket well, but there’s definitely a fickle element that will abuse the easiest target in any given (drunken) situation. And when the opposition is on top, it’s usually struggling Aussie players that find themselves in the firing line – especially when expectations are high. I’ve even seen Glenn McGrath get abuse at times.
Consequently, if England can make a decent start – and it’s quite possible that a combination of Root, Cook and Bairstow score enough runs at Brisbane to put England in the ascendancy – then it’s quite possible that the mood inside the ground and around the country will change rather quickly. And if that happens then every Paine drop or Marsh waft that flies to slip will be met with national derision.
What’s more it is actually possible for English players to win over Australian crowds if they play aggressive cricket. When I was down under in 1998/99 the Aussies absolutely adored Darren Gough. He gave absolutely everything and was a natural entertainer; therefore the Aussie public often roared him to the crease and didn’t particularly care if the result was an Aussie wicket. As Geraint Jones explains in this Betway Insider interview, if you show a bit of ‘ticker’ and personality, the Aussies will embrace you as a favourite son.
The one thing we can’t escape, however, is England’s own weaknesses. We have too many inexperienced players and we’re missing our best all-rounder. Indeed, if England lose the Ashes then serious questions should be asked of Trevor Bayliss … as regular reader Danny Holden explains below:
Trevor Bayliss appears to be just what he said on the tin. He’s aggressive, hands-off and eager to facilitate the players. We’ve seen the best and worse out of this England group now, but in truth the team hasn’t progressed much, if at all, since 2015.
Perhaps it’s harsh to have a go at Trevor Bayliss for doing exactly what he said he would do; English cricket wanted to take the brave step and play more exciting and aggressive cricket, and that’s what he has delivered. However, one can’t escape the fact that England are prone to folding like a cheap suit while playing shots Sunday cricketers would be embarrassed to play.
Without reviewing every series England have played under Bayliss, I can tell you that they all followed the same pattern. Some of the most entertaining cricket I’ve ever watched has also come during that span, but we’re infuriatingly inconsistent. We can beat any side in the world on a good day, but on a bad day we could lose to Geoffrey Boycott’s nan, with her stick of Rhubarb.
I have absolutely no doubt that I’ll be throwing my phone a few times during this series. Joe Root and Co will doubtless go for the most difficult shots imaginable, and get out at stupid times, before insisting that it was the right thing to do. But that’s what this England team does. England punch, counter-punch, punch again and punch again. They can thrill you and they can also bring you to the verge of utter madness.
Although it’s often seen as a weakness, I wonder if this ‘licence to thrill’ approach might actually be England’s secret recipe for success this winter. Few England teams have approached Ashes tours with this kind of positive mindset; so it might catch the Australian team off-guard. What’s more, this ‘punch, counter-punch, and punch again’ mentality might just capture the imagination of Aussie public. Call it the spirit of Darren Gough if you like.
Although Australian sports fans dislike us Poms for our perceived arrogance, they also have an inherent dislike for our traditional English conservatism. They hate the way we (traditionally) play rugby in an unimaginative way that emphasises forward power and goal-kicking, and they hate it when clean-cut ‘schoolboys’ like Andrew Strauss arrive in Australia with an attritional strategy that essentially bores batsmen out.
Thankfully we’re not sending the usual bunch of conservative bores this time. Rather than playing cricket by numbers, the current team play positively in any given situation – even when it’s akin to committing hari-kari. It’s seat-of-your-pants stuff all the way and it usually results in entertaining cricket.
I wonder, therefore, whether this current England side is actually ideally suited to playing in Australia – not necessarily in terms of skill and ability but in terms of temperament. Trevor Bayliss hasn’t yet fashioned a world-conquering test team, but he should know how to fashion a side that can be competitive down under.
The strength of this England side might well be that they’re not very English at all. It’s just a shame that Ben Stokes, the player that embodies England’s do-or-die mentality more than anyone else, won’t be playing at Brisbane.
However, with the likes of Root, Moeen Ali, Bairstow, and even James Vince (who plays stylishly enough before getting out for his usual 30-odd) England should still be good to watch. We won’t die wondering. And that’s why, despite all the dire predictions, Australia might wonder what’s hit them over the the next few weeks.
If you’re pinning your hopes on Australians deciding “hang on, we actually quite like these English lads”, it’s going to be a long series.
They might not think that initially Tom, but what happens if England get off to a good start and play the more exciting cricket? It won’t take long before the crowds turn on Australia. If that happens, and England do play well, then there are enough good natured Australians (who know their cricket) that will appreciate that the better team is winning.
If England get off to a good start and play well, then winning will take care of itself and the “hearts and minds” of the Australian public won’t matter. So by all means, England should aim to start well and play well for its own sake. But don’t expect to convert the locals into cheerleaders.
It’s true that Australian crowds can become frustrated should results go the wrong way. But that’s still a long way from being happy to see England win. The hope that England might “capture the imagination of Aussie public” is like my cat hoping to become an astronaut.
Imagine the boot were on the other foot. Imagine Australia came to England and played “the more exciting cricket”. How many England fans would be rolling over and deciding they were actually quite pleased to see Australia win? Did English fans welcome being beaten by those great Australian teams of yesteryear. The “better team was winning” so presumably they loved every minute.
Perhaps Australians are different but the likes of Shane Warne and Mark Waugh etc had loads of big fans in England. We might not have wanted the opposition to win – I agree that’s fantasy – but cricket fans do generally appreciate the skills of opponents.
They might not become cheerleaders for the opposition, of course, but they applaud them, stop sledging them, and appreciate their talents. If that happens in this series – the way the Aussies used to cheer Gough- then England will have a much easier ride.
Good luck with that.
As professional sportsmen (the same goes for the women), the England team should simply relish the chance to play in front of a passionate opposition crowd that is spewing venality at them. Our supporters have been dishing it out to the Aussies for years -Gillespie and his caravan in 2005, Johnson and his bowling in 2009 and 2015, Warner and his punching in 2013; not to mention the comments to Pakistan in the ODIs after the ball tampering in 2009. Almost all said in jest but ultimately aimed to undermine the opposition. I was at the Gabba for a one dayer in 1988 when the entire ground was chanting “Hadlee is a w***er” – it was the biggest backhanded compliment he could have had, because it showed how much they feared his bowling. So, if you want to know how to withstand abuse, ask any psychologists who work with footballers, who face the worst verbal taunts week in and week out, but basically, get out there and get on with it.
Nothing better than a bit of sledging. I may have told it before (memory goes in your 60s after a few blows to the head without a helmet) but my favourite exchange was in a club game when the bowler announced (as I arrived at the wicket) “Bloody Hell. It’s Captain Mainwaring”. I pointed out that Godfrey was in next and that he couldn’t be much of a bowler if he couldn’t get out a couple of pensioners. Most satisfying 50 I have ever made.
In my experience the most prolific sledgers also tend to be the most tedious people on the pitch.
Farbrace’s talk of “monotonous” bowling didn’t exactly suggest an ‘up and at ’em’ strategy! Look out for lots of bowling three feet outside off-stump and trying to bore the likes of Warner out if the ball doesn’t swing round corners.
It’s more the approach of our batsmen I was referring to.
All batsmen, whether test or club standard, know that there are two elements to success at batting – ability and technique (even if it is the technique to play a reverse sweep), and shot selection. The problem with the Bayliss approach is that it emphasises the former to the (almost) neglect of the latter. Of the England bats only two (Cook and Woakes) seem to place great value on shot selection, with Bairstow being an honourable third (compared with the others). Particularly in the first innings of a Gabba test (as has been said in previous posts) it is essential to get off to a good start with the bat and not lose wickets unnecessarily by wild shot selection. This is why I would have preferred to take a gamble on the technique of Hameed and played Stoneman at 3. It may not have worked, but at least we would not get ourselves out.
I’d say that there is another, masssively important part, of batting – bottle. If you ain’t got it then go home.
Fair comment, but in 50 years of watching tests I can count on the fingers of one hand the batsmen who have failed on that measure (I do not count tail enders).
Bopara is one that springs to mind. Could Vince be added?
Then there’s fitness. Let’s hope the medical staff are more competent than last time
Always reminded of the Tony Grieg post ‘make the grovel’ tour when this subject comes up. He was fielding on the boundary in front of the Sydney ‘Hill’ on a very hot day with England struggling. The normally vociferous crowd appeared in generous mood when they started to leave full beer glasses on the boundary for him. However these glasses were full of urine, not beer, but this did not deter Greig from downing a couple and appearing to enjoy it, thus winning hearts and minds for the remainder of the tour. I can’t see Root doing this, partly as he rarely fields on the boundary, but mostly because of the PC outrage it would cause these days. Even Stokes, were he out there, would probably decline. But what the hell, it’s a good story anyway.
All that’s required to win over Australian crowds is to drink a cup of piss and enjoy it.
yes but just don’t get punched by australians!
In light of the Bairstow incident will be amusing to see what the Aussie crowds make of it. Could make JB quite popular although he will no doubt be the butt of plenty of jokes.