Cricket’s oldest rivalry is all set to get under way tomorrow (21 July)—the Ashes. Forget about England’s supremacy and Australia’s inexplicable inability to pull themselves out of sticky situations in the recently-concluded triangular series—when it comes to the five-day version, it is a different story altogether.
This time around, though, England have a bit of a swagger about themselves. And many people, with Ian Botham deserving special mention, believe that they have what it takes to give Australia a dose of their own medicine. Which, actually, is a pretty usual story at the start of every Ashes series! And the fact that it makes grown men (I deliberately use the term ‘men’ as opposed to ‘people’) behave like schoolchildren, thinking that what it takes to beat the Aussies is to stare them down and have a filthier vocabulary!
A case in point is the Hayden/Jones incident, after which, if delighted English commentators are to be believed, the Australian opener has ‘not been himself’. If it were so easy, England would have long since won the Ashes back! The truth is, the Aussies do play some great cricket—and that remains true whether they do it with their eyes downcast or with their middle fingers in the air.
Some of the delighted rumblings about Australia beginning to lose it, as evidenced by their loss to Bangladesh in a one-day game, has been toned down given that they quite comprehensively beat England in the three-match series that followed. England’s new blue-eyed boy is Kevin Pietersen, the South African-born middle-order batsman who chose to turn his back on the latter because of their racial selection policies. And he comes in to replace veteran Graham Thorpe—which I am not convinced is a balanced equation. Pietersen appears a bit ‘my bark is just as good as my bite’, and true that it takes all sorts, but there is a fine line between arrogance and actual performance.
And while England might cry themselves hoarse that Ashley Giles is an attacking spinner, I’d like to know which other Test side would select him! Geraint Jones’ batting may be impressive, but as a wicketkeeper there is room for improvement. Among the new guys, Andrew Strauss is the only one I would be inclined to back. Of course, with the old guard of Marcus Trescothick (who I think should be captain) and Vaughan around, there is adequate backbone in the side. I’m pretty sure Stephen Harmison, Simon Jones and so on will all have their good days.
The trouble is, so will Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Simon Katich, Adam Gilchrist, Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee… well, you get the drift!
In case the impossible does happen and England win the Ashes back, or at least put up a good fight, it will be because they played out of their skins, beyond their ability. Not because they slapped their chests and notified their opponents of the strange relationships in their respective families.