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Ignore the hype – these are England’s Ashes

Ignore the hype – these are England’s Ashes


“Wait, what’s that?”

As Christmas approaches, you might be forgiven for wondering if the faint whistle you hear as the snow begins to fall is that of the mystical Polar Express steaming along. Christmas spirit, Christmas cheer!

Alas, you could not be more wrong.

No, this is not what you are hearing. Image courtesy Matt Johnson on Flickr.

No, it’s nothing Christmassy, or vaguely interesting for that matter. It’s just the Australian hype train, tooting louder and louder as it chugs over the tracks, heading inexorably for total oblivion.

Pre-series wars of words are always drab in international sport, but nobody does mind-numbing tedium with the relentless efficiency of the Australian players and media.

Which leads me to question: Why? Why do they feel the need to do this? Why must we repeat this exasperating routine with the predictability of a mid-game Andy Murray grimace?

They do it because they are worried. And well they should be.

Ignore the hype, and forget the experts (that one’s for you, Mr Gove), England are coming home with the Ashes.

Andy Murray reacts to the latest wave of hot air blowing over from Australia. Image courtesy of habervideotv on Flickr.

Australian Panic

All the pre-series chatter predictably focussed around the absence of Ben Stokes, but the make-up of England’s side is pretty much settled upon for the first Test.

The same can’t be said of Australia, whose erratic selection panel have landed upon the perfect mathematical formula for complete disarray. Talented opener Matt Renshaw has been dropped for debutant Cameron Bancroft. Wicketkeeper Tim Paine has been ferried back from the underworld by Charon for his first Test appearance in 7 millennia. Shaun Marsh has been recalled for the 950th time to plug a middle order gap with an even larger middle order gap.

Chaos theory. Good stuff selectors.

English Serenity

By contrast, the English side is largely settled. Mark Stoneman is the new Andrew Strauss but better, and Dawid Malan has nailed down the 5 spot by dispatching teenagers to the boundary ropes in warm-up matches. Stokes’s absence is a shame, but opens the door for Woakes, Moeen and Bairstow to move up the order, and another bowler to show that they are equally angry and prone to profanity as our dear Ben.

Winkling out Wickets

For all that Mitchell Johnson brought fire and brimstone in the last Tour down under, the metronomic control of Ryan Harris at the other end stemmed the run rate and tied down the England batsman.

Then enter into the equation that Tim Bresnan (the cricketing equivalent of James Milner) had an unbelievable series in Australia, and you realise it isn’t that difficult after all.

Broad and Anderson may not have express speed, but they are cunning operators – and are far less likely to break down with injury during the series. And for all that Cummins and Starc are quick, their bowling will be far more likely to disappear to the boundary should they get it wrong.

Stuart Broad is very good at cricket. Image courtesy of Windies Cricket on Flickr.

How they compare:

So, all things considered, how does a composite Australia-England XI actually look?

David Warner vs Alastair Cook

One is angry, punchy and moustachioed, one is handsome, stoic and clean-shaven. Unfortunately the former is scoring far more runs.

Cameron Bancroft vs Mark Stoneman

Two Ashes debutants, but Stoneman’s experience and rock-solid personality means he partners Warner at the top of our order.

Usman Khawaja vs James Vince

James Vince is about as reliable as Robert Mugabe reading a resignation speech. Khawaja all the way.

Steve Smith vs Joe Root

Steve. Smith. Most boring name in the world? Yes. Most overrated player in the world? Maybe. National treasure and God’s messenger on earth like Joe Root? Absolutely not.

Peter Handscomb vs Dawid Malan

Battle of the incredibly average nobody’s. Give it to Handscomb, though I’m not sure anybody cares.

Tim Paine vs Jonny Bairstow

Tim is not even the most famous T-Pain in the world. The ginger messiah crushes his opposite number under the sheer weight of never-ending runs.

Shaun Marsh vs Chris Woakes

Mismatch as they won’t occupy the same place in the order, but Chris Woakes is mustard and has only been dropped once by England. Shaun Marsh gets dropped three times a year.

Lyon vs Moeen Ali

Sometimes, cricket isn’t that important. Moeen’s beard 1 – Nathan Lyon’s beard – 0.

The beard that is feared. Image courtesy of Jumpy News on Flickr

Mitchell Starc – Craig Overton/Jake Ball

Begrudgingly, Mitchell Starc is quite good at cricket.

Pat Cummins – Stuart Broad

Pat Cummins is as likely to tear his hamstring while eating his cheerios as to take wickets, so as he sits out most of the series injured Stuart will be making Broad inroads into the Australian batting.

Josh Hazlewood – James Anderson

Jimmy is one of the greatest bowlers in the history of Test cricket. Josh Hazlewood is a village cricket pie-chucker. No comparison.


England to win the series 3-2 and retain the Ashes. No draws because nobody can bat.


Cricket, please do not hurtle down the same path as football

Sledging in cricket

Cricket is supposedly the sport of gentlemen but the current Ashes series has dealt it terrible PR.

Sledging has reared its ugly head. While it won’t quite fully overshadow the impressive and aggressive cricket played by Australia, it has certainly left a murky blot on the game’s copybook.

The art of sledging – verbal abuse dished out to batsmen by the fielding side in the hope it will put them off their game – is nothing new.

There is one famous story of Zimbabwean batsman Eddo Brandes who took his position at the crease to be asked by the Aussie fast bowler Glenn McGrath: “Why are you so fat?”. His sharp reply had something to do with the eating of biscuits as a reward every time he was secretly “entertained” by McGrath’s better-half.

The sledging at the Ashes has nowhere been as imaginative as that famous story. Indeed, on occasion, it has been aggressive and at times vile, with threats of broken arms and other such nonsense being flung around like George Bailey boundaries in a Jimmy Anderson over.

It is true that there is intense rivalry between the two teams.

The Ashes are of vital importance.

Anyone in any doubt should check the tired faces of commuters on their way to work in the morning after staying up all night to check scores from Down Under on Sky Sports, Twitter or Test Match Special.

Down the years, the Ashes have, in the main (we won’t mention the Bodyline series of 1932-33), been played with a sporting ethos running through them. Freddie Flintoff consoling crestfallen Aussie tail-ender Brett Lee when England triumphed in the 2005 Edgbaston Ashes test encapsulated the spirit of that rivalry.

The press has helped up the ante Down Under. The treatment of Stuart Broad by some sections of the Aussie media has been ridiculous. His decision to arrive at the first press conference of the first Ashes test carrying the local newspaper which refused to use his name in protest over his refusal to walk in the previous series seemed at the time a cheeky gesture. With the benefit of hindsight, it now seems just downright sledging

As well as the sledging antics, cricketers have also fallen foul to the most infamous of traps which usually snares their footballing colleagues – social media.

In quick succession, we have read in newspapers apologies from Ryan Harris and Graeme Swann over indiscretions on social media. Swann’s was much more serious than Harris’s drink-fuelled outburst, stupidly likening the Ashes loss to rape.

Cricket has become far more professional in recent years, with more money being put into, which may explain the increased rivalry as well as increased scrutiny.

Match-fixing scandals have tarnished the face of the game over the past decade. Cricket has fought hard to put these behind it but the last thing it needed was sledging and football-like anger chipping away at its very heart in the current Ashes series.

England limply surrendered the Ashes in horrible fashion.

But with only pride left to play for, the management – and indeed PR men – for both teams should be driving home the message that England and Australia have a responsibility to restore cricket’s good name by improving the on and off-field behaviour towards each other.

Football tends to bring out the worst in people and has for too long trodden the path of bad behaviour. Cricket should do all it can, not to follow it.