This, that and the other. Mostly the other
The England one-day squad fidget in plastic chairs that are pointing towards the front of the room. They are waiting; nervous. Finally Andrew Strauss enters and addresses them.
"Hello gentlemen. Today I'm going to speak to you all about the most important element of this one-day series. As ever, when playing Australia in one-day cricket, we have one overriding concern: laying down markers for the Ashes. It doesn't matter whether it's a World Cup final or a seven-match series immediately after the last Ashes - it's still all about laying down markers."
Strauss looks over the room to check that this has gone in before continuing.
"English and Australian cricket fans don't care about one-day cricket matches between the two nations, except in the context of the Ashes. With that in mind, the strategy for the matches taking place in the next few weeks is wholly geared towards the laying down of markers."
The members of the squad adopt serious facial expressions, setting their jaws and narrowing their eyes. Graeme Swann raises his hand to ask a question:
"If I put this whiteboard pen on the floor, does that count?"
Andrew Strauss looks momentarily vexed before addressing his spinner with a weary tone: "No, Graeme. Not that kind of marker."
"So what kind of marker then?" asks Luke Wright giddily, eyes wide at the prospect of somehow contributing towards the Ashes campaign.
"Good question," says Strauss. "Ashes markers can be laid down in all sorts of ways. Outside of losing wickets, pretty much everything that happens on the field of play can be considered a marker laid down."
"So we're not doing anything differently?" asks Stuart Broad, fighting back the rage that perpetually threatens to consume him.
"On the contrary," answers Strauss. "While most events can be considered Ashes markers, some are more important than others. We're going to steal a march on Australia by only laying down those Ashes markers that are specific to Test cricket.
"Like what?" blurts Broad, frantically squeezing a stress ball.
"Well, let's talk batting," says Strauss. "As I mentioned, losing wickets is bad. The Aussies will gain a lot of confidence from dismissing our top order, so don't let them. This is the Ashes we're talking about. I'd far rather we were 120 for 0 after 50 overs than something ludicrous like 300 all out."
"And what about bowling," asks Jimmy Anderson, who along with Paul Collingwood is struggling to prevent Stuart Broad from climbing through the window to try and get at a starling he thought had the look of the kind of bird that would let the batsmen run two when they could have been kept to one.
"Top of off stump," says Strauss. "Let's get some discipline. No fancy stuff. No slower balls. Let's just wear them down."
"But the ball always ends in the stands when we do that," pleads Wright, his eyes welling up.
"This is about the Ashes, Luke!" roars Strauss. "We need to lay down some markers!"
As Wright cowers, Strauss glares at him, before returning his gaze to the room. His face brightens and he asks: "So how's that for a plan then?"
"Excellent," says Broad, kicking his chair halfway across the room.
"Good," says Strauss. "Let's lay down some markers and get some momentum."
Alex Bowden blogs at King Cricket
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