'If you beat Australia, they quickly turn like the crowd in Rocky IV'

'It feels great to have ruined the Australian crowd's Christmas' (2:11)

Graeme Swann, Kevin Pietersen and Mark Butcher discuss the effect the crowd in Australia has on an Ashes series (2:11)

Graeme Swann has fond memories of the one moment in his career when he was able to kick back from the struggle of winning and losing a Test match, and simply soak in the acclaim of a job well done.

The scene was Sydney, on the final morning of the 2010-11 tour, with the Ashes already in the bag. England had resumed needing just three wickets to wrap up their third innings victory of the series, and the SCG - bereft of home fans who had long since accepted the inevitable - had instead been transformed into an Anglican Cathedral of acclaim.

"The Barmy Army were incredible on that trip, I've never heard noise like it on that day at Sydney," says Swann, England's Ashes-winning spinner turned BT Sport pundit. "Paul Collingwood was sent down to field in front of the Barmy Army, rather than third slip. You'd never have the luxury normally, but Straussy [England captain, Andrew Strauss] said, 'it's your last day of Test cricket, get down there and enjoy it'."

If such a finale sounds improbably idyllic, then it is only fair to point out that that 2010-11 tour was the exception that proved the rule of England's Ashes tours. That triumph sits sandwiched between 5-0 whitewashes on the 2006-07 and 2013-14 trips, while just three of England's current tourists (James Anderson, Alastair Cook and Stuart Broad) had even been born at the time of their previous victorious campaign - Mike Gatting's 2-1 win in 1986-87.

"A lot of the time on my two tours of Australia, the Barmy Army were the only smiles we got in the day," says ESPN's Mark Butcher, who was twice defeated on tours Down Under in 1998-99 and 2002-03. "Come hell or high water, rain or shine, they were supporting a team that was invariably getting a hiding, so they played a huge part in keeping us going when we were out in the middle, and runs were being racked up left, right and centre."

Instead, the more familiar refrain on England's Ashes tours has been the sound of Aussie crowing - in the venues, around the cities, and even at the airports, where immigrations officials have rarely been backwards in coming forwards to "welcome" their Pommie guests. It all adds up to a pervasive sense of hostility that can only serve to unsettle the unwary tourist.

"I've had some pretty funny experiences," says Kevin Pietersen, a three-times England Ashes tourist. "Signing autographs on the boundary, a little kid gave me a bat, tried to get me to sign it, so I turned around and as I went to get the bat he pulled it away, and then 20,000 Australians just start to abuse you. There's nothing you can do, you can just laugh."

Many players, of course, tend to thrive when there is an atmosphere, hostile or otherwise. "Everyone has their own way of coping," Butcher says. "Quite often it's a wonderful thing to play the game under circumstances where people are fantastically into what is going on. So much of the cricket that we play, not just county, but around the world, is played in front of crowds that can be indifferent. The Ashes is one of those occasions when that is certainly not the case.

"The crowds can be extremely vocal," he adds. "But if you have 90,000 in a stadium on Boxing Day, when you're out in the middle, it can be difficult to decipher who is shouting what to whom. Generally I fielded close to the bat in those Test matches, but I did hear that Steve Harmison and the bowlers on the fence used to get fearful stick because they could pick people's faces out and hear what they were saying."

Sometimes, such as on England's 2006-07 tour - when Andrew Flintoff's men arrived as Ashes-holders for the first time in 20 years - it wasn't simply a case of hearing what the crowd are saying, but reading it too.

"I knew that the Australians were coming for us that series, when every single time they hit a ball to the boundary, on the big screen came up an advert 'Tonk a Pom, Tonk a Pom, Tonk a Pom'," says Pietersen. "If there's anything that's mentally disintegrating, it was that advert that we saw for five Test matches. Every time they hit a boundary 'Tonk a Pom'."

That campaign, inevitably, was launched at the Gabba in Brisbane, a venue at which the Aussies haven't lost a single Test since West Indies' fast bowlers ruled the roost way back in 1988. When packed to the rafters by baying home fans, there can be few more intimidating cauldrons in the whole world of sport, let alone cricket. And Michael Vaughan, the former England captain turned BT commentator, experienced its full, terrifying glory in the opening exchanges of the 2002-03 tour.

"I'm sure opposing teams say that, at places like Edgbaston, Manchester, Leeds, The Oval at times, you can feel the England crowd are right behind the England team, but it's nothing compared to what Brisbane is," says Vaughan. "Every single Australian who arrives in that venue believes it is their job to put the opposing team off, especially if it's England."

And that was very much the case even on the triumphant 2010-11 tour, when England opened the series as if caught in the headlights by that familiar Australian juggernaut. Swann's first experience of Ashes cricket Down Under, in fact, came as a batsman, moments after Peter Siddle had ripped the roof off the stadium with a first-day hat-trick.

"It's a really feral atmosphere," he says. "It's loud, in your face, it's raucous, and you do feel that as a player. I've never known noise like it when I've walked out to bat in 2010. The noise was just phenomenal."

The only way to win such crowds over - let alone silence them, as England managed so gloriously seven years ago - is to earn their respect through the way that you play. This was something that Vaughan himself managed on the 2002-03 tour, when his three glorious hundreds, including a match-winning 183 at Sydney, allowed England to retain a modicum of pride in a 4-1 shellacking.

"With Australians, they like to see players having a go," he says. "Back in 2002-03, and in 2006-07, the Aussie public almost seemed to be bored of the team winning everything, and bored that teams weren't coming to have a go at them, or individuals were frightened or timid.

"I tried to have a go, and I think the Aussie public looked at me and thought, this kid is coming out of the blocks, he's playing a bit risky, but at least he's trying to take McGrath and Gillespie on. You gain a lot of respect from playing that way."

And, on those rare but unforgettable occasions when the team's collective performance manages to out-gun the hosts - such as on the fifth day at the Gabba in 2010-11, when Alastair Cook's double-century guided England to the extraordinary scoreline of 517 for 1 - the silence in those mighty Australian stadiums can be deafening.

"You could hear a pin drop the whole day," says Swann. "That's what England must strive for, get rid of the noise, get rid of the vitriolic atmosphere, and then it's as quiet as a mouse, and that's quite lovely.

"There's a lot of noise on the field, but if you beat Australia, they quickly turn like the crowd in Rocky IV," Swann adds. "They start screaming for "Drago, Drago" but by the end it's all "Rocky, Rocky!" That's what the Aussies are like. They don't like losers, and if you're beating them, they quickly turn on their own."

Rarely has that happened with more devastating speed or impact than at Melbourne in 2010-11 - on Boxing Day, no less, the crown jewel in Australia's sporting calendar. After winning the toss and batting first, Ricky Ponting's men were bowled out for 98 before England closed on 157 for 0 in reply. The match, and the Ashes, were all but sealed before the nation's turkey had been digested.

"It was the biggest day in the Aussie calendar," says Swann. "But it turned into fancy-dress day at the MCG - everyone came as empty seats. That's just incredible, to think you've just destroyed a whole nation's Christmas. That shouldn't make you feel happy, but the fact that they were Australian really made me happy about life."

"It's just a wonderful event on Boxing Day, but it's intimidating, it's meant to be," says Butcher, who was also part of an MCG victory in 1998-99. "It's more of a footie stadium these days, the cricket almost intrudes on the footie season, but as a Pom playing in that Test match, you're certainly not welcome. The public are very happy to be there and intimidate the English team, but if that team happens to play well, they scarper, and the ground is yours."

And all that remained were the exuberant chants of England's massed ranks of supporters, who are sure to fly out en masse once again, particularly to Melbourne and Sydney over Christmas and New Year, and hope to be rewarded by an England performance that goes down in history for the right reasons.

"The Barmy Army are amazing because they were out there singing all day long when we were rubbish, and didn't see us winning for 20 years!" says Swann. "I think 2010 meant more to some of those guys than any of the players. We'd only toured out there a couple of times, they'd been there five times and seen England lose 20 Test matches."