Opinion: Australia talk big, but can they deliver?
Mitchell Johnson is in the mood to knock Jonathan Trott's block off. It all sounds good and aggressive. The noise volume is set high but it is the quality that counts, writes Tim Ellis.
England will have to deal with some hugely motivated Australians on the field when the Ashes finally starts on November 21. Even so, most of their problems could revolve around their own internal unit rather than what the actual opposition are capable of doing on the pitch.
The devil of the series winning squad in 2010 was in the detail of the preparation. Andrew Strauss had already spoken of things that England were doing in terms of fitness and forward thinking that was alien to most other international units. How that showed during that three-one win.
Crease occupation from Trott, Cook and Bell made Australia's batsmen look like they were playing in a Twenty20 international. Apart from a Mitchell Johnson inspired burst at Perth, the visitors were so superior it was almost embarrassing. The squad was totally settled and Australia were not at the races after failing to turn the screw at Brisbane.
Now things are a little less clear. After the thumping in the United Arab Emirates, England lost their gloss. They are now winning again. They won three-nil three months ago but doubts remain about how emphatic that score line really was. Michael Carberry is clearly a strong character, but if he does start it will be his second Test match in a super intense environment. Chis Tremlett, Boyd Rankin and Steven Finn are all struggling to put their claim on that final spot while the engine room of the team, Matt Prior is fighting to be fit. Tim Bresnan, the unsung hero that can be relied upon, is not available.
Moreover, the Australian weather looks a little English which has caused the tourists a few problems in terms of preparation. Australia are naturally more bullish in their own backyard and have forced England to fly all over the country, bar the Northern Territory. Johnson is in the mood to knock Trott's block off. It all sounds good and aggressive. The noise volume is set high but it is the quality that counts.
Michael Clarke clearly wants to give the impression of total order. In announcing the squad for Brisbane more than a week before the game starts, Cricket Australia are almost screaming: "Look, we are sooo ready." The skipper even claimed that Cook told him England's team, reading out this exclusive with all the charisma of a boy who was late for detention. Jose Mourinho he isn't. It was a nice idea but the fidgeting spoke volumes about Clarke's continued discomfort in front of the press.
In 2006/7, the English press was deadly serious about Australia's ageing Dad's Army of over 30s – but this senior unit still had the legs to flatten England 5-0 before staggering their retirements (and some were literally staggering to their retirements) over the last six years. One of that old guard – Ricky Ponting – is now questioning whether England's seniors can manage one last push before their bodies begin to pack up.
Kevin Pietersen and Graeme Swann are definitely looking at short shelf lives as their knee and shoulder respectively degenerate. However, Australia hardly have the upper hand in the crock stakes. Clarke and Ryan Harris need mobile medical units and Brad Haddin and Chris Rogers are 36. The questions remain about the quality (or paucity) of Australia's batsmen. They have hardly found any new stars in the last three months. If James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Swann can work in unison then it might not be so important which big bird England choose as third seamer.
As Broad said: "I think the Aussies are excited about their chances but for an England side, the 17 guys in the squad, it is not important what people from Australia and Cricket Australia say."
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