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.