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Peter English at Lord's
July 15, 2009
Ricky Ponting's men will step on to Lord's on Thursday morning feeling like the home of cricket is a little piece of Australia. It is one of the strangest quirks in Ashes history that for more than a century a small oval in St John's Wood has been the safest place for a player wearing baggy green.
In their past 27 Tests Australia have 13 wins and 13 draws, while they also celebrated from the balcony after winning the 1999 World Cup. The only blemish since 1896 came in 1934 when Bill Brown's 105 could not stop Bradman's XI from an innings defeat as they suffered against Hedley Verity, the left-arm spinner, who took 14 wickets in a day following rain.
"There is a great feel around the place," Ponting said. "The history that comes with this ground and the very proud record that Australia have had here for so long makes you feel good when you arrive. Already the guys in the team meeting were talking about our record here and how much everyone has been looking forward to playing here."
Nathan Hauritz and Peter Siddle saw the place for the first time on Tuesday and Siddle needed instructions to navigate from the dressing room to the field. "He didn't know where he was going, walking around down the bottom there getting lost," Ponting said. "I said 'out through that door, mate', 'through that Long Room there'. He found his way to the nets."
Ponting is the only one of the current Australians to have any sort of scar from his experiences in the NW8 8QN postcode. His right cheek was split when a Steve Harmison bouncer bent his helmet grille in the opening stages of the 2005 encounter. Seventeen wickets fell that day and Ponting needed eight stitches, but Australia ended up winning by 239 runs, their only success of the campaign.
Occasionally when he shaves Ponting notices the mark and it was only because of the sun peering through a window that it could be seen when he spoke ahead of the match. "I guess they are the battle scars you end up with after playing a sport like this for as long as I have," he said. "I've got a few others as well. My fingers are not that straight. It's part of what we do." The greater irritation for Ponting is his name not being on the dressing-room honour board that recognises the Test hundreds of visiting batsmen. In his previous innings here he has registered 14, 4, 9 and 42 but he enters this match in superb touch after 150 in Cardiff.
"It would be nice," he said of having his name embossed on the board. "I have played two Tests here and not done very well at all. I've made a one-day hundred here which was a great feeling on the last tour. I've just got to carry on from last week."
The problem for England's players is they all know about their opponent's great record at headquarters, yet they aren't supposed to bring it up. Andrew Strauss said there was no logical reason for the previous failures against Australia and he won't mention the record to his team before the match.
"The old favourites of Australian cricket really getting together and enjoying playing at the home of cricket, and being motivated and being inspired, it really holds some weight," Strauss said. "As England players [Lord's] inspires us but maybe because we play here often we become more used to it than the Aussies, that is one particular reason."
He joked that the personnel of both teams had changed considerably over the past hundred years but switched moods when he spoke of his desire to end the streak. "It is a new set of circumstances and a new set of people," he said, "and hopefully that record will be set right this week."
Brown, who died last year aged 95, was the final survivor from the 1934 loss and he told the Guardian in 2005 about his Lord's experience of 71 summers earlier. "It was the first time I'd played there and I was only 21," he said. "I found the atmosphere very exciting as I walked down the steps and much of that was self-induced. But there was something else that struck me about the place and it came from Lord's itself, the very heart of cricket. It was redolent of history and I felt part of it. WG Grace had walked these same steps. I'd arrived."
Unlike some of the modern "traditions" the team has developed, the Lord's sensation has not been manufactured. The Australian XI of 2009 will be stirred by the same things that drove their predecessors to more than a century of formidable performances at their home away from home.
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