Quiet Australia slip into England

The Australians' low-key arrival into Birmingham on Thursday belied the enormity of the summer that lies in wait

Alex Brown
Alex Brown
Michael Hussey acknowledges the applause for his defiant hundred, Board President's XI v Australians, Hyderabad, 3rd day, October 4, 2008

Michael Hussey will be expected to play the middle-order anchor's role during the Ashes  •  AFP

The Australians' low-key arrival into Birmingham on Thursday belied the enormity of the summer that lies in wait. It also contrasted sharply with the team's entry four years ago, when an expectant England and a ravenous media created an intimidatory atmosphere that started the moment the players cleared customs and lasted until they boarded their return flight - urn-less - several months later.
A turgid series against West Indies and a spate of dispiriting controversies involving the national team has spoiled England's cricketing appetite of late, although the intensity of the nation will inevitably lift when the World Twenty20 and, more notably, the Ashes approach. But for the veterans of Australia's last Ashes campaign in England, the subdued nature of Thursday's team arrival was both surprising and bemusing. And for Justin Langer, currently based in Taunton with Somerset, the lack of fanfare that accompanied Ricky Ponting's men this time around was particularly jarring.
"I suppose my recollection of last time is especially vivid, because I arrived on the day of the London bombings," Langer told Cricinfo. "I got into Heathrow at 7am, and within a few hours the bombs had gone off. It was an eerie feeling. The entire city felt like a ghost town. But well before that, the guys who arrived for the one-dayers (which preceded the Tests), said it was fever pitch from the moment they stepped off the plane. I'm not quite sure what the reasons are, but this time it seems much more low-key."
Australia's few survivors from the 2005 Ashes series might have expected hordes of baying England supporters on Thursday, but were instead greeted at Birmingham airport by a modest gathering of journalists and well-wishers. With Manchester United's Champions League final defeat still commanding blanket coverage in these parts, a Twenty20 squad arrival - even that of Australia - was unlikely to bounce Ronaldo off Fleet Street's back pages.
Still, before decamping to their team hotel, Michael Hussey spoke on behalf of the tourists and provided an intriguing insight into a new-look and evolving side; one that appears to possess little of the hubris and headline-grabbing aggression that defined the Shane Warne-inspired team of four years ago. Shots across bows were replaced by gracious compliments of England's recent rebuilding efforts under the stewardship of the Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss. Hardly the phony wars of yore.
"England have added a lot of depth to their squad over the last couple of years and have got guys playing confident cricket," Hussey told reporters. "I think it will be a very close series and very challenging for both teams.
"There have been a lot of new players coming into the England set-up who have been doing quite well and showing they are good enough to play at international level. That bodes well for England. We have been very impressed. We know they have got a good team, particularly in English conditions. A lot of their guys have improved so I think we are in for a huge challenge this summer."
Hussey looms as a pivotal figure in the forthcoming Ashes series. A veteran of the county circuit, Hussey's experience in English conditions is immense, and though he is yet to play an Ashes Test away from home, he will be relied upon heavily to play the middle-order anchor role for which he has long been groomed. Potentially compromising those plans, however, has been Hussey's extended form trough; one selectors have attributed partly to burn-out and sought to remedy by resting him from the recent one-day series against Pakistan in the UAE.
Hussey was hopeful the break, plus Australia's recent infusion of youth, would serve them well over the coming months. "(Australia has) a lot of confidence out of winning the Test series in South Africa," he said. "We have a mixture of young fresh faces like Phil Hughes, who is so exciting, with a lot of talent, and has done well in his initial time as this level.
"We have some good experienced players as well. Hopefully that blend will help us but I think what really matters isn't whether you are young or old but doing the business out in the middle. That's all that counts."

Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo