It seems so long ago that How Did We Lose in Adelaide was just my mournful old nonsense and no-one read it. Four years ago I was looking forward to an Ashes series, I had a different role, at a different status in a job that allowed me time to breathe and contemplate the rantings I committed to this digital paper. We had a pretty good team, we’d beaten Australia 3-0 at home, and people actually moaned, after the years we had put up with, that we hadn’t played better in doing so. We’d won in India, and in the batting ranks we looked solid, except for an opener, and in the bowling we looked fine too. Sure, the two games Australia batted first in we had trouble in not losing, but that was being picky.
Fast forward to now and life has taken amazing turns. I’m a lot more senior, in a more challenging role, and it takes much more of my time. As the down time is much shorter, I’ve got less time to write. As the job crams my limited cranium capacity, the key time I devoted to the blog, the thinking time to write stuff in my head before committing it to the blog is restricted. The chances to actually watch cricket is hugely constrained. I’m honest about this folks, I can’t cover what I used to without being more of a fraud than many think I am already. Last week I got some time off, but this coincided with a wedding anniversary (I don’t live in my mum’s basement) which we spent in Rome. This week I face four and half days in major City Law firm’s offices – so no, I’m not unemployed either, and do have a full life – where my job entails negotiating massive transactions. I’m no superstar, I’m not even well paid, but it’s certainly not going to give me the chance to do what I want to do on here.
Because we have the Ashes, and already a hectic pre-Christmas work nightmare, combined with the lack of sleep an Ashes series always brings with it, means fear. It’s certainly much better when we are doing well, but a losing, disastrous series is not a good thing for the soul, or your health. Going to work with a combination of Southeastern trains, our Ashes hopes going south, and sleep deprivation is not a prescription for good health.
I know that this is also a horrible time of year for workloads for both Chris and Sean, so collectively we apologise for the lack of content. Judging by the recent Twitter output, we are not missing much, and also, probably we need to put some stuff together. Danny did a brilliant job this week, and now it’s my turn.
It is fair to say that we only really remember pre-Ashes warm-up games if they have a memorable quote attached to it (Martin Johnson 1986) or that they are part of some well-conceived master plan designed to buff up the Head Coach and their visionary captains (2010 – we’ll try to win every game philosophy). Other than that, no-one really remembers how we do. Do you remember how poorly Cook started the 2010 tour? What about Robert Key’s tour de force against Australia A in 2002? So let’s not read too much into this phony war. Pre-Ashes warm-ups are for practice and to get into some sort of form. I don’t necessarily want my players to get out for skittish 60s or effervescent 80s, but it is absolutely clear, given past form, that if Root doesn’t fire, and Stokes isn’t there, we are putting our faith in Cook having a great series against a top pace attack (we have to go a fair way back for that and the evidence of recent performance really needs realistic appraisal), or one of the players we’ve punted on coming off.
This week BT Sport showed what you should do with a cricket channel by giving a whole day over to the highlights from the 1986-7 series. Going out to that series we had a poor outlook, Australia had performed creditably in India, while we’d lost at home to India and New Zealand. The openers were Broad and Athey, with Gatting at three, Lamb at four, Gower at five, Botham at six. Question marks all over the place. Weak openers, Gower not in peak form, Botham a pale shadow. It clicked because they got off to a good start, got their way with the Australian batting that had a few question marks of their own, and took their chances. This feels a bit like this to me. Throw out the 1994-2006 times, when we went up against a batting line up from the gods, when the Aussies could put out a 2nd XI batting line-up and they’s all get in that England team (on an individual basis). Australia are not in that mode at the moment. They have strong players, like Smith and Warner, but they also have “promising” talent like Renshaw and Handscomb, and their own question marks like the Marsh’s, Khawaja and others. Sure, they could well click and make the runs that are needed, but it’s not certain. This is an Australia team that didn’t handle South Africa very well last year, while with the aid of injuries and suspensions, we fared much better. Form lines aren’t to be trusted. But they are also not to be ignored.
There’s great concern about injuries, as always. It seems, with few exceptions, that we have this going to Australia all the time. Broad and Anderson have avoided the pitfalls, Woakes looks in fine fettle after his injury woes at home, which means we need one more seamer and Overton or Ball will be fine in the role. Tom Curran is one great pre-series spell away from getting a sniff too. We do need Moeen to get fit because in the absence of Stokes, his all round skills, and his elevation a place up the order, are vital. He’s the man we need the most. Fringe seamers who may not even have played aren’t something to flap about. Not really.
I have no real idea what is going to happen which is the joy of the series. We could get battered, and that’s not something to discount, but we could also play well and surprise. England do OK outside of the sub-continent. Stokes is a massive blow, and there’s no way to pretend otherwise (and it’s now too late for him to be involved even if he is cleared), but we can certainly put together performances. Jimmy Anderson has to be good, which is by no means assured (he had excuses for last time around) but why do we fear Mitchell Starc, who has done nothing against us, when we have Jimmy who has 500 wickets and the Aussies don’t give a stuff? Something about mental attitude.
Time permitting we’ll do some pre-Ashes pieces, but we’ll leave the meaningless stuff to others! Can we have some volunteers for the Ashes panel. You may remember how this works; we get five people to answer five questions for each test match and publish them. We also have the annual awards which I’ll put up before the series starts. I have the Dmitris to put together and an annual review of the social and print media. The other members of the editorial team will have their posts too, and I have a piece from Man in a Barrel to stick up (and if you want to update that, sir, please do).
It’s the Ashes though. It’s still special. And I will try to remember that when Lovejoy and Shiny Toy are commentating. It’s going to be hard.