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England travel hopefully

It is difficult to detect too many flaws in the Australian game from which England can take comfort as they depart for their latest Ashes campaign

Ralph Dellor
It is difficult to detect too many flaws in the Australian game from which England can take comfort as they depart for their latest Ashes campaign. The results do not augur too well, either, with the last seven attempts to wrest the little urn from eager Australian hands ending in failure. Even so, as the touring party left from Heathrow they were making all the right noises.
They were sounding, or trying to sound, confident and optimistic without making outrageous claims about what they were likely to achieve. The odds are against them, and they know it. However, odds have been upset before and everyone associated with English cricket will hope that this will be the moment for a major shift in the balance of cricketing power.
Coach Duncan Fletcher was keen to point out that the team which left England at the same time twelve months ago with notable absentees was given little chance of success, but they performed above themselves. There is no reason why the same thing could not happen this time.
"In any Test series you go out with a very positive attitude to win and that's what we want to do. We want to go out there and win each Test match we play in and I think that's the positive attitude the side's shown over the past two or three winters.
"Like any Test series you go away in today, you've got to be on top of your game. Everyone's got to be batting well, guys have got to be bowling well and you've got to be holding your catches. If you manage to do that and play above yourself, there's a very good chance you'll win the game."
Fletcher was hopeful that he would have a full side available for selection by the time the first Test comes around on November 7th in Brisbane. Of all the players recovering from injuries and operations, only Andrew Flintoff, striving to get over a double hernia operation, is behind schedule and the medical advice is that even he can catch up in the time remaining before the vital date. At the moment, Flintoff himself says that he cannot run, let alone bowl, but he has been doing plenty of gym work to keep in some sort of physical shape.
Darren Gough is recovering after his third knee operation since he limped out of the one-day series in New Zealand. He is confident that, this time, he will make a full recovery and is looking forward to the challenge of Australia. He is not one to take a negative view of anything.
"You've just got to believe you're going to do it," he said. "There's no point in sitting here and saying we're going out there and will beat them in every Test match, but there's no point in saying we're going to lose every Test. We've just got to go out there believing we're going to do well. I believe it and, with the talent we've got, if we can score runs like we did this summer - if we can score that volume of runs - we've got a great chance of beating them."
Gough has to face up to the fact that he could be the third fastest bowler in the England party. "But I'm the best," he countered. He acknowledges that the likes of Steve Harmison and Simon Jones are pushing for his crown and there is no doubt the two young fast bowlers do give a cutting edge to the attack.
Harmison is aware of the expectations that he carries to Australia, but also recognises that pace and bounce alone are not enough to guarantee success, even in conditions that should suit his style of bowling. "These Australians have played against this a number of times before," he said. "They'll take full advantage if you're not quite on the mark."
He also knows that he cannot afford to lapse into his old ways of being a slow starter to tours and seasons. "You're straight into it and I'm going in here with a bit of confidence. I had a good end of the season with Durham and I made a half-decent Test debut so hopefully I can go out there and start well."
At the other end of the age and experience scale is Alec Stewart. This is his seventh and presumably last Ashes campaign, and he still seeks success. "I've been pretty consistent - played six, lost six," he joked. "It's not a record to be proud of and this tour coming up won't be easy either.
"We all know what a fantastic side Australia are. They're playing very good cricket and have done for a number of years, but I believe we've got to go out there with a very positive outlook and attitude. We've got to believe we can win and win well and bring that little urn back home."
Even approaching 40 and after 13 years of touring, he still looks forward to this tour with almost boyish enthusiasm. He also believes that England can win. "If I went out there believing anything else I might as well stay at home all winter and watch Chelsea play football and find a job. But I'm going out there with the total belief that the team is good enough to take on Australia and win."
With the only options working and watching Chelsea, it does not take all Stewart's experience to know it makes sense to have one final go at winning.