You cannot ignore the verbal battle which surrounds Ashes, much before the visiting team arrives in the host nation. In England, Wimbledon serves as a great platform for cricketers to catch a glimpse of the best tennis around, the tour matches for the visiting team kick-off the acclimatisation process. But the real battle starts when the first ball of the first Test is bowled.
Australia won both their tour matches – against Kent and Essex – convincingly. They found their hero in Mitchell Marsh who put his hand up for the all-rounder spot in the playing XI with 337 runs in four innings. But their preparation didn’t end on an ideal note as Ryan Harris, racing against time to be match-ready, announced his retirement.
Knee gives up
Australia were playing against Essex when Harris announced his decision. It had an emotional effect on his team-mates. Their shoulders dipped and the body language changed. Even after the win, the celebration was about going back to the dressing room and paying tribute to Harris.
England, on the other hand, were relaxed. They showed in the series against New Zealand that they won’t take the defensive approach anymore. New coach Trevor Bayliss confirmed it saying that he is all in for aggressive cricket.
James Anderson, on Sunday, was seen at the Royal Box. Two days before he takes field, Jimmy caught up with some tennis. After the New Zealand tour, it may have been necessary. After all, sports does take a toll on you and inspiration can be found anywhere. For Anderson, one moment of brilliance he saw on the grass court could inspire him, one game turning the match on its head. If not this then he may have been there to discuss cricket with Andrew Strauss who was also present. Cricket discussions can take place anywhere and everywhere.
Stuart Broad took the sledging episode to the next level, though in a funny manner. He tweeted a picture with Peter Siddle with a caption: “Sids and I discussing sledging strategies…. @petersiddle403”. Hope Siddle also takes it in a funny manner.
But what was the player who has everyone talking about him doing? Steve Smith was making them talk. Former England cricketers Gramme Swann and Kevin Pietersen spoke about the right-hander. Even Stuart Broad joined the list. Smith, as usual, replied. He said that he will let his bat do the talking and openly mentioned that Ian Bell and Pietersen really got into him during the last Ashes in England.
There can be embarrassments as well. Chris Rogers was caught in a ticket-selling scheme. The Australia opener was trying to sell tickets, he had gained through contacts at Middlesex, for the first Test. This is against the regulations set by MCC. Talking of embarrassments, James Faulkner was charged with drink-driving case. Though this is unrelated as he is not part of the Ashes squad.
Small incidents can change the mindset of the whole team. They can inspire you, motivate you, pump you.
Having said that, the opposite is also true. Remember Jonathan Trott’s case? A confident, successful number three for England just could not cope with the atmosphere he found in Australia. Surprisingly, the 2013 was his second Ashes in Australia.
Then there was the Phil Hughes death. That changed Australia, the cricket team. Everyone wanted to perform, for their “little brother.”
Another death – a murder – was the talking point in Australian dressing room on Friday. It was another Phil. Coach of the Adelaide Crows’ AFL side, Phil Walsh was allegedly stabbed to death by his son Cy Jacob Walsh. Michael Clarke tweeted his condolences. Australian sports community is like a big family.
Business as usual for hosts
Back in England, it is still the same. Players playing county and others practising at the regular sessions. Apart from the odd media briefings, England haven’t been highlighted much. It appears, till now, that they have been on the defensive side, at least off the field.
What approach they show can only be clear once they take field on Wednesday.
Steven Finn, who last played a Test in the 2013 Ashes in England says: “We’re desperate to win back the Ashes. We’ve seen how much the home crowd have been behind us this summer – there’s been a big turnaround in people’s attitude towards us – and we want to make those people proud.”
Surely, turnaround is the right word for England. Let’s see if England can actually turnaround the result they suffered Down Under last year or will Australia clinch their first Ashes series win in England since 2001?