‘Nice’ Kiwis make way for vicious Aussies
What a pleasant chap that Brendon McCullum is. The England and New Zealand ODI and Test series were a refreshing festival of… pleasantness.
This bears a stark contrast to the dark hearts and corridors of spite that muddied relations between India and their inhospitable hosts in the UK last summer. It was all rather strange to witness a professional sporting event with so much goodwill and no propaganda.
It helps that McCullum and Eoin Morgan are good friends. The pair were spotted positively beaming at each other as they posed with the One Day trophy. Smile. It confuses people.
The Kiwis have been generally lauded for their heroic efforts at the World Cup, where they reached the final and made numerous friends with this cordial approach. In a pointed reference to a mouthy team in the Northern hemisphere, McCullum underlined he wanted to play aggressive cricket but without 'the rubbish' and 'periphery stuff'.
The mind games and psychological warfare can take a hike to Mount Cook for all he cares. The Kiwi skipper was more interested in praising Alastair’s England than sledging their vulnerabilities. Yet, such conviviality on and off the pitch doesn't mean you can't go hard at the opposition. The edge that all fans wants to see was still there.
Contrast this with Australia, who would more likely push off you off the precipice than reach out a hand of mercy. Brad Haddin’s antics during the World Cup final in Melbourne were labelled derisory when he sledged Grant Elliott non-stop and gave Martin Guptill a huge send off.
Haddin said afterwards, though somewhat toungue-in-cheek: "They were that nice to us in New Zealand (when Australia lost a pool match) and we were that uncomfortable. They were that nice to us the whole week. I said in the team meeting: 'I can't stand for this anymore. We're going at them as hard as we can."
In 2013, Australia were unsure of themselves and a rather arrogant but increasingly laboured England put them away 3-0. Now the Aussies know who they are as a team and have turned up the volume accordingly. Their oldest enemy has had to endure two years of fallout and internal mutilation of the sacred dressing room.
Steve Smith has opened up the raw wounds of the subsequent 5-0 annihilation by suggesting he doesn't even think the Ashes will be close. Clarke’s team will use every device in the book to drive at the callow heart of their opponent’s relative newbies in an attempt to prevent four consecutive losses in England.
After a series where the Three Lions were 'allowed' to play without distraction, they must steel themselves for a far more audible foe. Joe Root has accumulated runs with relative impunity in against modest international Test opposition over the last 18 months, but he must know that the Aussies will be on to his back foot weaknesses in a flash.
Gary Ballance and Mooen Ali are guaranteed an initiation ceremony, while the feisty Ben Stokes might just need a pair of noise-cancelling headphones where Haddin is concerned.
How will they cope in the white heat of Ashes warfare? Clarke’s assertion that the teams will 'head-butt the line' but not cross it gives you a flavour of what is to be expected.
As McCullum correctly reminded us, it is what you do on the pitch that counts but if this Test project is to stir as nicely as the ODI team then Cook’s troops must fend off a huge initial onslaught on their character and technique.
What has happened in a bish and bash five match one-day series where the team was hugely different in composition will have no relevance to the first day of an Ashes Test match.
It will not be pretty and it will not be anywhere near as nice as the New Zealanders.
Jonny Bairstow heading in the right direction in his recovery from injury
The 33-year-old Yorkshireman underwent successful surgery on a broken leg and dislocated ankle in September after a freak golf incident.
Jofra Archer enjoys new role as he bowls England to victory in South Africa
Archer did not open the bowling but produced career-best ODI figures.
Sir Andrew Strauss lauds ‘extraordinary leaders’ Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes
England’s men’s team have won nine of their 10 Test matches under the new regime.
Jofra Archer returns career-best ODI figures as England claim consolation win
England won the third and final match against South Africa but had already lost the series.
Dawid Malan and Jos Buttler hit hundreds as England fight back in South Africa
Buttler’s men are bidding to avoid a series clean sweep and a sixth successive loss in the ODI format.
Tom Curran taking break from red-ball cricket for ‘my body and my mental health’
The 27-year-old has endured injury problems in recent years.
Olly Stone hopes to play a role in an England pace trio during this year’s Ashes
Stone hopes to play a role this summer along with Jofra Archer and Mark Wood.
Olly Stone ready for whatever role is required to make England World Cup squad
‘Any way in the England team, I’ll snap someone’s hand off,’ said Stone.
Dane van Niekerk ‘absolutely broken’ to miss World Cup over fitness standards
The South Africa captain was unable to complete a two-kilometre run in the minimum required time.
Run of defeats has not damaged England’s confidence, insists Moeen Ali
The all-rounder is confident England will be in good shape for the defence of their World Cup crown.