England beer offer received with suspicion

Cynical gamesmanship or well-meaning attempt to improve the spirit? If it was England's intention to improve relations between the sides when they invited their Australia counterparts for a drink at the end of the Cardiff Test, it may well have backfired

George Dobell
George Dobell
Cynical gamesmanship or well-meaning attempt to improve the spirit in which cricket is played? The answer to that question probably depends on whether you like - or hate - England or Australia more. But if it was England's intention to improve relations between the sides when they invited their Australia counterparts for a drink in the dressing rooms at the end of the Cardiff Test, it may well have backfired.
Certainly, some in the Australian dressing room were underwhelmed by the invitation. Going in the face of modern convention - in recent times, at least, the sides would only meet for such a drink at the end of the series - it has been interpreted, coming moments after a heavy defeat, as antagonistic. Nobody likes a gloater.
What is not disputed is that Alastair Cook, the England captain, invited Michael Clarke, the Australian captain, and his team into the England dressing room immediately after the game was completed. Nor is it disputed that the Australia team did not accept. Everything else is open to interpretation.
"It was Cooky's idea," James Anderson confirmed. "After the New Zealand series we had a beer after each game and we found that that was quite an enjoyable thing to do. Just to chew the fat after a hard Test. It didn't matter if we won or lost. We still did it at Headingley after we lost. So Cooky went and asked. We were all happy to do it. I don't know why they didn't come in."
Clarke said he discussed the idea with the Australia coach and senior players before responding. "When Cooky approached me after the game I was a little surprised, to be honest," he said. "It hasn't happened too many times in my career no matter who we have played after the first Test. Normally we do it after a series.
"I spoke to Darren Lehmann and a few of the senior players to get their views. They were of the opinion - like me - that at the end of the series we'll have a drink with England. If they ask us again at the end of this match, we'll worry about it then. For us it's not a big deal and I'm sure for England it's not a big deal either."
The invitation comes at the same time as England embrace a new, aggressive style of cricket and after they have spoken of playing "with a smile on their face". While they have not specifically said they will not "sledge" they were notably quieter in Cardiff this year than they had been in the earlier matches of the summer of 2014 when the Sri Lanka players were notably unimpressed by their antics.
Yet now, inspired, in part at least, by the refreshing attitude of the New Zealand side, who played a hard but good-spirited brand of cricket, England have reasoned that, to appeal to a wider fan base and to engage with a general public that seemed underwhelmed by their Ashes success in 2013, they have to do more than win. Their focus has moved away from talk of fighting and battles and more to enjoyment and the expression of skills. They appear, at first glance, to have embraced the new approach with the zeal of a recent convert
But it's not hard to understand Australia's cynicism towards England's new approach. Until very recently, England gave as good as they got in terms of gamesmanship and sledging. It was, after all, only a year ago that James Anderson was accused - though subsequently cleared - of "crossing the line" in an off-field incident with Ravi Jaedja. It remains to be seen if this is a passing phase - a ploy, even, to show-up Australia's more brusque approach - or a meaningful change.
Certainly Peter Siddle, who may well come into the team for the second Investec Test at Lord's, is unconvinced. "It's my fifth Ashes series and it's the first time anyone has ever gone to have a drink after one Test match," he said. "So it's a little bit of an interesting story.
"Especially coming from Jimmy Anderson. You know what Jimmy is like. After the Oval last time we had a drink and he said 'I don't know why we do this, I can't stand it'.
"I've played four Ashes series and we've never had a drink after a Test match until the very last one so I don't think anything is going to change there. It's always a hard, aggressive match and obviously after the game it's move on to the next one and get prepared to go again. But at the end of the series, we'll be happy to have a drink."
Perhaps, in the grand scheme of things, such issues matter little. Perhaps it is more important to note that Moeen Ali, sore after his exertions in Cardiff, did not train at Lord's on Tuesday, but is said not to be a risk for the second Test. Perhaps it is more important to note that Mitchell McClenaghan, New Zealand's left-arm fast bowler currently playing for Middlesex, was among the net bowlers helping England prepare for the on-going challenge of facing Mitchell Johnson and, fitness permitting, Mitchell Starc.
Or perhaps, after a few years where the image of the game has been tarnished by on-field posturing and childish sledging, it is refreshing that teams are beginning the reflect on their behaviour and the actions they can have on the next generation of cricket lovers. These are very early days in England's conversion. It remains to be seen whether it takes root.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo