Injuries. They’re the bane of the England cricket team’s existence. And every time there’s an Ashes tour down under things just go from bad to worse.
Back in the 1990s England only seemed to have two players the Aussies worried about: Darren Gough and Graham Thorpe. Therefore it was odds on they’d both get injured either before or during the tour … thus making an impossible task even more impossible – if degrees of impossibility are indeed possible.
Back in 2002, both Thorpe and Gough were named in the squad, but both pulled out before the first test in Brisbane arrived. This came after Gough left the 1994/95 tour early with a broken foot, and Thorpe left the 1998/99 tour with a bad back.
Basically, if you were English and any good at cricket, you stood absolutely no chance of finishing an Ashes series. Australia were always a much better side than England during this period, but at least the games might have been more competitive without England’s harsh injury hoodoo.
A bunch of crocks
The situation probably reached its nadir on the infamous 2006/7 tour when England were defending the Ashes for the first time in decades. Everyone was hoping for a repeat of the 2005 nail-biter, but injuries decimated the team before we left Blighty, and just got more and more ridiculous from there.
Michael Vaughan, whose captaincy was instrumental in winning that fantastic 2005 series, was ruled out with a knee injury before the tour began. Then the vice-captain (and possibly our best batsman) Marcus Trescothick went home after a few days with a stress related illness. This left Andrew Flintoff in charge, who we’ve subsequently discovered was also suffering from a mental illness throughout that tour. You couldn’t make it up.
The injury jinx obviously didn’t stop there. We had Steve Harmison’s constant battle with homesickness, Ashley Giles’ sore hip, and Simon Jones played no part in the series thanks to … well, it could have been any number of injuries with him really. Poor bloke.
Basically the famous five-pronged attack that had done so much to win the Ashes the year beforehand was in tatters. Only Matthew Hoggard, who was probably the least suited to Australian wickets, managed to perform anywhere near his best. No wonder we lost 0-5.
Of course, the Aussies absolutely revelled in our misery. The Twelfth Man had a field day. Billy Birmingham’s spoof of the tour labelled England ‘a bunch of crocks’, with (I must admit) amusing consequences. Billy’s narrative described England calling up Tony Greig and Mark Nicholas in desperation, and then taking a punt on one of Flintoff’s mates from the Barmy Army … who subsequently threw a punch at Glenn McGrath I recall.
Pass the sicknote please, matron
The last time England toured Australia the injury situation was almost as bad. Jonathan Trott did a Trescothick and went home, Matt Prior never looked fully fit, and Graeme Swann decided that his elbow was too sore to carry on playing. He retired with a bowling average of 29.999 recurring … convenient that.
It’s also worth remembering that Kevin Pietersen went into the series with a knee injury that hampered him throughout, Chris Tremlett wasn’t in top physical shape, and things got so bad that Scott Borthwick played as a specialist spinner at Sydney.
Four other players were called into the squad at various stages too: Simon Kerrigan, James Taylor, Monty Panesar, and Chris Woakes. How much bad luck can one side have? I would go on but I usually try to block the whole 2013 series from my memory.
Will history repeat itself?
Sadly the injury bug seems to be hitting England again. Which is why most cricket predictions are tipping the Aussies to win. Toby Roland-Jones was ruled out weeks ago, and although Ben Stokes’s likely absence has nothing to do with physical injury (well, not to Stokes anyway), his replacement Steve Finn has already been ruled out with a knee problem.
How often do bowlers get injured while batting in practice? Not very often … unless you’re a Pom on an Ashes tour, in which case it’s bound to happen. I fully expect Finn’s replacement, Tom Curran, to fall down some stairs at the airport and break his leg.
Thankfully the news on Moeen Ali seems a little more positive, with Trevor Bayliss indicating he’ll be fit for the first Test. However, if past experience is anything to go by, Moeen will probably be struck down with the bubonic plague, or some other random illness, if his hip does indeed make a timely recovery.
Although Joe Root is likely to be our most important player on the pitch this winter, the key man is actually going to be Ben Langley, our physio. If he can keep Root, James Anderson, Alastair Cook, and Stuart Broad fit, then the bloke deserves a medal.
Unfortunately, however, he probably he has zero chance of making this happen. I suspect that Glenn McGrath, or someone equally sinister, has a voodoo doll for each of them. That’s why he’s able to predict 5-0 whitewashes with such confidence.
Written in collaboration with oddsdigger.com