It has been a party atmosphere across the UK. England are champions and, deservedly, it’s been unbridled revelry for a fan base used to agony. But things move quickly and now part two of this momentous summer is about to begin with the Ashes.
The nation hasn’t been swept up in cricket fever like this since that magical summer of 2005 when, of course, arguably the greatest ever series was played. England beat an all-time Australian team to end a dire Ashes stretch and it led to scenes of jubilation that were probably even wilder than those experienced in recent weeks. The likes of Andrew Flintoff, most certainly, showed up the newer generation in the the partying stakes.
Back then, an ashen-faced Australia couldn’t wait to get on the first flight back home. Glenn McGrath later said how enraged he was watching England’s celebrations while in transit and how that stinging defeat fuelled Australia, who didn’t lose another Test for over two years.
Right now, it’s been slightly awkward for Australia, who had to quietly endure all the adulation for the England team. Unlike in 2005, the bulk of Australia’s team have had to stay in the UK and trudge through it all.
It’s a totally different format, but Australia have the tricky task of quelling England’s surge of momentum. You feel Justin Langer, an innate street fighter who experienced the pain of 2005, will relish trying to spoil the party. The short turnaround also works best for Australia, who can quickly move on from a disappointing World Cup exit where they were thrashed by England in the semi-final.
Even though it was a meek ending, Australia should be relatively content with their World Cup campaign. It’s easy to brand anything other than triumph as a failure for a team so used to World Cup glory, but just a few months ago Australia would have gladly settled for a final four finish.
It was a flawed team overly reliant on David Warner with the bat and Mitchell Starc with the ball, and the team’s lack of depth was brutally exposed when both struggled against England.
There was obvious disappointment, but Australia’s emerging goodwill since Langer has taken the reins remains intact. Truth be told, breaking their long Ashes hoodoo in the UK is the bigger prize for them and their supporters Down Under, where there was only lukewarm interest in the World Cup.
Unsurprisingly during Australian Rules football and rugby league seasons, there was very little fallout over Australia’s exit which was forgotten in less than 24 hours. The Ashes should be different. There will be far more scrutiny in how Australia performs.
Australia have lost four straight Ashes series in the UK – just one shy of England’s horror run Down Under in the ‘90s and 2000s. For a whole generation, staying up late in vain has been dispiriting.
This series has long been earmarked as the drought-breaker by Australia’s brains trust until everything got derailed because of the ball-tampering fiasco.
The Ashes was supposed to be the swansong for ex-coach Darren Lehmann and also the defining series of Steve Smith’s captaincy. How things have changed. But the worst is over and confidence is slowly building and being harnessed by Langer.
According to sources close to the team, there were initial reservations from several players about Langer’s hard-bitten style far removed from Lehmann’s more cordial approach. But much like he eventually did at Western Australia, Langer has won over the group and they accordingly have played with real purpose for much of the year.
Australia should feel relatively confident, particularly with Smith and Warner back to bolster the batting which looked particularly shaky without them. Their potentially lethal bowling attack is where Australia can really inflict some blows – both literally and metaphorically. The pace attack fell away in the World Cup but will be bolstered by the return of Josh Hazlewood. The real X-factor could be James Pattinson, the injury-prone firebrand who looked to be the best of the bunch when he burst onto the scene earlier in the decade.
Finally fit, Pattinson has the deadly combination of pace and swing that can be totally unplayable when he is feeling it. Starc, though, looms as the safest best to be Australia’s main man after his dazzling World Cup where he rediscovered swing after a barren period. He promised a lot four years ago but mostly disappointed and was particularly expensive. Starc is far more mature now and this series could shape his Test legacy, where he still feels a peg below Australia’s greats.
Maybe it’s just their trademark bravado, but something does genuinely feel like it’s brewing within Langer’s team. Forget his funky methods – like the no shoes bonding session that became widely mocked on social media – Langer has a knack of getting players to buy in and, right now, they seem to believe.
But you feel a lot is riding on the first Test in Birmingham. An England victory might make them hard to stop and the momentum too difficult to stymie. Conversely, a strong Australian showing will prove this is indeed a different format – they did win the Ashes 4-0 just 18 months ago.
If not, things could get really painful for the tourists. None more than suffering through more English revelry.
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