'You have to get into a winning mentality'
Cricket in England is currently enjoying the sort of media coverage that is usually reserved for football and football alone. Only one other sporting side knows that feeling - the England rugby team who won the World Cup in 2003. Martin Corry, the England captain and Leicester Tigers stalwart, was a member of that squad, and he spoke to Cricinfo about the similarities between the games, and his own passion for cricket.
In the autumn of 2003, everyone in England was a rugby fan, now all of
a sudden, cricket is the sport of the moment. Are you experiencing a
strange sort of déjà vu?
To be honest, because we were on the other side of the world [in Australia], we weren't really aware of the phenomenal interest back home. It was only when we arrived back at Heathrow that we understood just how gripped the nation must have been. This Ashes series has been fantastic and it just goes to prove what we found in 2003. The country just wants its national sides to be successful, because it's a chance to share the pride and get behind the team.
Is it a help or hindrance for the cricketers to know just how many
people are willing them to succeed?
It can only help them. Just listen to the crowd and you'll know what's going on. I don't think England have ever been supported as well as they have been in this series, and so far, the lads have risen to the challenge. It must be a huge help for them.
I hear you were down at Edgbaston for the second Test
Yep, I managed to find a window in my training schedule and went down there on the first day, and it was a brilliant experience. That day really epitomised everything that has been going on, because England really took the game to the Aussies and you could see the confidence coming out of their pores.
Have you ever played the game yourself?
I'm a mad-keen fan and I love watching cricket, but I've never played the game to a great standard. In fact, I had the dubious pleasure of facing Matthew Hoggard in the nets on the Tuesday before the match, and I think he did a good job of showing up all the flaws in my batting!
In 2003, you were an ageing side at the very peak of your powers - much
like the Australian cricket team, in fact. All of a sudden, there are
suggestions that the Aussies have hit the slippery slope. How did you deal
with similar carping Down Under?
When everyone starts criticising you, you have to use it as a spur, and take on an "I'll show 'em" kind of mentality. I happen to read a lot of the press about cricket, but absolutely none on rugby, because that way you can cocoon yourself in your own world. Obviously we all hear stuff that's being said, so if it's negative and it's someone having a pop, you have to use that to your advantage. That's what any professional sportsman does - he'll use any motivation he can get, be it positive or negative criticism.
What makes a great team?
First and foremost, you have to get into a winning mentality, because once you're there, it's very easy to think like winners and act like winners. Once you've done that, you tend to find that you'll nick the games that end up in the balance, because you have the confidence of having done it in the past. Presumably that situation arises more in cricket, because when a game gets tight, when it looks like one side might have to bat out for a draw, there will be someone on hand to pull it out of the bag. That's what you've found with the Australians over the years. They've often secured victories when they shouldn't.
Is Andrew Flintoff turning into the sort of totem that Martin Johnson
was for England's rugby team?
As spectators you always want your heroes to stand out, and Flintoff is doing that job. Not only is he producing the goods, but he is a great character with it, and whenever a team-mate takes a wicket, he is always the first to congratulate him. You always need people like that in the side to give you a lift and make you feel good about yourself. I've been impressed with not only the way he's played, but the way he's become a complete team man - every successful side needs someone like him.
There is a suspicion that this tour will mark the end of Australia's era of dominance. As we saw with England after the World Cup, the decline when it comes can be pretty swift ... You're not going to have world-class players like McGrath or Johnson around forever, so the key thing is to give the guy who steps into his shoes enough opportunities, so that when he does retire, there's a guy waiting in the wings who's an experienced Test player. When Jonno was playing there was always a squad mentality, because we recognised the need to bring on and give time on the training pitch time to his successor. And so, when he did retire, straightaway we had a Test-class stand-in. Nobody can play forever.
What is it that keeps great sides at the top?
For the past few years there has been an aura of invincibility surrounding the Aussies, and that counts for so much in professional sport. If you go into a match thinking "can we really beat them", then you're beaten already. The great thing about this summer is that, regardless of what happens in the rest of this Ashes series, England have done the magnificent thing and sent messages around the world. We are really going for these Australians, and they are beatable. That is the single most important thing, they have chipped away at that aura.
Both cricket and rugby have tended to labour under football's giant
shadow in recent times. How important is it to have periods like these, in
which they are the only sports anyone is talking about?
It is of massive importance - cricket's a little bit different to rugby, because it's predominantly a summer game and so is not competing for those column inches in the broadsheets. I'm no marketing man, but the aim is to get the sport out as many people as possible, and the best way to do that is to win the major games.
What is the trickledown effect of a World Cup win or an Ashes
It is massive. All you're looking to do is give the youngsters a reason to get up, go out and play the sport. I got a lovely letter from someone the day after the World Cup win. They were driving through town, it was raining heavily, and they saw a kid with the exact same Jonny Wilkinson style, kicking a rugby ball against a garage door. Things like that make all the difference, all you want is for this to be their introduction to the sport. Once they get going they'll find they love the sport and they'll stay hooked. Everyone has stories about how they first got into their sport, and if it takes a World Cup win or an Ashes Test victory to get a child playing sport, then that's a fantastic achievement.
So much of rugby and cricket is tactical - are they similarities in the
way a captain must approach a game?
To a certain extent, yes. The greatest coaches in the world can give you all the tools and make sure your preparation's right, and that is what they are there for, but as soon as you step onto the park, you're on your own and have to make decisions on the hoof. If things aren't going according to plan, you have to change tactics, and that's the major similarity. The need to change things around and make something happen. And I find that is particularly evident in the way that Michael Vaughan captains.
What are your memories of astonishing open-top bus-ride after the World
That was a surreal moment. I remember driving down wandering who was going to turn up. We got on at Marble Arch and there was no-one around, and the joke among the lads was that we would just be waving at the shoppers on Oxford Street. Then we pulled round the corner and the streets were just lined, absolutely packed with supporters waving flags. This country is full of nationalistic pride, and it was wonderful to be able to see that, especially when we pulled into Trafalgar Square. Looking back now I sometimes think: "did it really happen? Did it happen to that magnitude?" Because it was just such an immense day - the whole occasion was phenomenal.
Two years on, do you feel the rugby excitement has died, and is that
likely to happen to the cricket as well?
To a certain extent, we've got ourselves to blame because we haven't performed as world champions since. We haven't played at the standard to which we aspire, and while a lot of that is down to our rebuilding phase, we know what's it's like to win and be at the top, and we want to stay at the top. The recent world rankings tell a pretty accurate story because we are quite a long way down. But we've had a taste of what it's like at the top, and we've got to make sure we keep that as our target.
The England Rugby Supporters Club (ERSC) brings rugby fans closer to the action. Join online at www.rfu.com/ersc or call 0870 2401642.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo