November 24, 2010

Ashes

Countdown to Ashes draws to a close

Liam Brickhill

In The Guardian, Frank Keating evokes memories of a youth spent following England's Ashes tours to Australia on wireless sets tuned to the BBC's world service on the eve of the first Test at Brisbane.

The radio ritual has been a quadrennial winter-warming rite for solemn Ashes observance. Crucial to me is that the richest flavours of remembrance need the BBC box to be full of Oz commentators' ripe vernacular as the ball hits "the pickets", not the boundary fence; that extras are always "sundries"; and that the scorecard numbering is forever eccentrically reversed, as in that inaugural score back in 1946 when it was eight for 659 and not the other way around.

In the same newspaper, Former England coach Duncan Fletcher believes that, while there will, understandably, be nerves in both camps before the Ashes get underway it is the team that masters its fear that will prevail.

There are two very nervous teams in Brisbane right now. But it is when you drive to the ground on the first morning of the match that the stress of the Ashes really starts to show. As I remember it no one seemed too worried in the team meeting on the evening before the first Test in 2006. It was only when we were on the bus that it became clear how anxious the players were feeling. The atmosphere was so quiet. Nerves affect different people in different ways. Most players tend to go into their shells, though the odd one or two will become perky and try to crack jokes to lift the mood. What is obvious is that people are not being themselves.

In the Sydney Morning Herald, Greg Baum unpicks the implications of consequences of two little words that will be of utmost importance on the first morning: heads or tails?

n one sense, this agog moment is a waste of energy. The overwhelming orthodoxy is for the winning captain to bat first. Ricky Ponting has departed from it only twice in 36 wins of the toss, Andrew Strauss twice in 16. It might even be this morning that the toss is superfluous, one side already having decided to bat, the other to bowl. It is one of cricket's eccentric charms that we will not know until afterwards.

In The Australian, Simon Barnes describes the Gabba as "a kind of lie detector" that "worms out and exposes to the brutal light of the sun anything that is bogus, boastful, ungenuine and untrue".

It's hard, the Gabba. Even the grass is hard. It's an architectural statement of the principle that you don't play sport for fun. You play it to be better than other people. Sport is a thing without pity, where even the best find themselves cruelly exposed, forced to appear before the world exactly as they are, all pretensions stripped away. For losers here, failure is curiously total.

In The Telegraph Jonathan Trott insists nothing will stop his pre-ball preparation routine, and suggests that while the first session at Brisbane will be seen as a statement of intent, England will be focussed on the big picture.

It would be easy for us to put too much energy into that first session. We have to keep it in perspective and not get too down or too carried away. Of course it is an important session, but that goes for every Test match. You can go a long way towards losing a Test in the first session or the first hour, but it is wrong simply to focus on those opening skirmishes. We have to be prepared to win a lot more battles and a lot more hours of Test cricket than just the first.

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Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town

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