Haddin puzzled by hype around new England
It has been called the most significant limited-overs series in England's history. It was also a complete non-event in Australia wicketkeeper Brad Haddin's view. Australia's arrival for the Ashes was accompanied by breathless headlines about England's 3-2 defeat of New Zealand in ODIs, after a pair of drawn Test series against West Indies and Brendon McCullum's side.
Having won the World Cup a few months ago, the Australians have viewed all this hype with bemusement. If Haddin's words are any indication, they are intent on restoring some perspective to the English cricket public by the time the five Test matches are done.
"I don't really understand the hype around that one-day series," Haddin said ahead of Australia's final warm-up match before the first Test in Cardiff. "We'd just come off a World Cup. I don't understand what the excitement is about, and what this newfound form England found in that format.
"I'm a bit puzzled by it. We'd come off the World Cup and everyone had played - it was just like they were a couple of months too late. We played them in the first game of the World Cup when it counted and the pressure was on. I don't really understand the talk. Did they not enjoy cricket before then? I don't know. I don't really get where they are coming from. That might be my naivety."
There was also some Haddin puzzlement at talk about England wanting to do away with sledging, following the example set by New Zealand. Australia's abrasive mien during the World Cup final was largely driven by Haddin and he expected more of the same during the Ashes.
"I don't understand where they're coming from with this," he said. "I don't understand this 'pleasant' thing. I don't know what it is. I don't know what I'm meant to say to it. If you could explain to me what it is.
"We fixed that [New Zealand] in the World Cup final, didn't we? Ashes campaigns are always played in the right spirit. Everyone's obviously highly competitive and there has never really been any dramas with sledging. I don't really see the need to talk about it."
Notions of Australia facing a "new England" intent on aggressive, proactive play and entertaining cricket have been welcomed in some quarters of the touring team, but Shane Watson questioned how much it would be possible for some members of the team to change their long-standing methods of operation.
"I'm not sure if that's exactly in Alastair Cook's DNA, to be really able to put a game on the line," Watson said. "It's going to be interesting to see how now that Alastair Cook comes in and takes over the Test team, how they continue to evolve as a team, because it's very obvious in the one-day series they've played how they've really started to take on the game.
"But you've also got to have the calibre of players and the quality of players to be able to do that so it'll be interesting to see how their game's evolved. I'm just very confident in the team and squad we have. I know if we play our absolute best I know we're going to be incredibly hard to beat. Wherever England are at, if we're at our best they're going to be doing well to beat us."
Like Haddin, Watson noted that England had found the thread of ODI cricket too late to be competitive at the World Cup, and waited with interest to see how that attitude would manifest itself in the Tests. As two of the senior pros in the team, Haddin and Watson know what it is to peak at the right time.
"England have obviously turned things around a bit and we've seen the flair they've started to play with in one-day cricket, which is unfortunately for them a little bit too late because the World Cup has just been," he said. "They've got another three and a half years to go until the next one but it's good to see that they've moved with the times with how cricket is being played these days and they're going to have to do the same in Test cricket as well.
"They've got the quality of players no doubt to be able to do it, like what we've seen in the recent one-day series, but it's going to be interesting to see how they try and take us on."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig