Ashes belief growing for England
Paul Collingwood is convinced England truly believe in themselves as Ashes winners this winter.
Today’s 10-wicket victory over Australia A in Hobart completed what Collingwood sees as near perfect preparation.
The success was sealed with almost a full session to spare at the Bellerive Oval, on the back of Ian Bell’s wonderful innings of 192 and a sound all-round performance from England’s back-up attack, led by Chris Tremlett with match figures of seven for 121.
Collingwood himself helped Bell pile up a crucial sixth-wicket stand of 240, after England had - for the third time in three attempts on tour - stumbled to a vulnerable position in their first innings.
On each occasion they have extricated themselves, Collingwood missing out narrowly on a hundred twice in succession - here and at Adelaide last week.
The upshot is two wins from three matches and by far the best of a rain-affected draw against South Australia last week.
Australia A captain Cameron White and opener Phil Hughes threatened to keep England at bay today, taking their scores to 111 and 81 respectively.
But Tremlett followed the example set by Tim Bresnan yesterday - like the Yorkshireman putting himself on a hat-trick at one stage - and despite some afternoon frustration at the hands of the impressive White, England got the job done again to put themselves in great heart for the start of the Ashes in Brisbane on Thursday.
Collingwood acknowledges the extent of the challenge they face to beat Australia down under for the first time in almost a quarter-of-a-century, up against opponents traditionally so strong on home soil and intent on wresting back the Ashes after defeat on their tour of 2009.
“Both sides have pressure on them, because we all know what the prize is,” he said.
“We hope now we have the genuine belief we can do it out here.
“I’m not 100% sure we’ve had that in the past. But I can safely say this time round we have.”
Collingwood is a veteran of two previous Ashes tours, and has experience too of two consecutive home wins.
He senses this time England have got everything spot on so far.
“I think we’ve got ourselves in the best possible position.
“We’ve prepared ourselves in the best possible way to go into Thursday’s Test match.
“Winning two games gives you confidence and the belief again.
“But there have been some huge individual performances in the three games as well.
“It was an exceptional performance in this match especially.”
Success at the Gabba is particularly hard to come by for touring teams, and the outcome of the first Test of five will clearly be hugely significant.
But Collingwood insists bucking such trends is one of England’s favourite missions - as they proved, for example, with an elusive victory over Australia at Lord’s last year. “The team see it as a challenge,” he said.
“Whenever we have come across these sorts of challenges in the past - whether it be not winning at Lord’s for 70 odd years - the guys really like it.
“Brisbane is one of those places where it is obviously difficult to get a result, because Australia have been very strong.
“But that just makes it even more exciting for us.
“We’ve got a good mix of guys who’ve experienced Ashes here in the past (and those who haven’t). You wouldn’t say there are mental scars there; it’s more motivation to do well this time round.”
Collingwood spoke stirringly six months ago of England’s determination just before they beat Australia, under his captaincy, in the ICC World Twenty20 final in Barbados.
Borrowing from the same phrase book again, he appears to prize the Ashes at least as highly as that historic first success for England in an International Cricket Council global tournament.
“This is the ultimate; this is what we play the game for.
“We get tested, and this is the biggest challenge we can have as cricketers.
“It’s something we’ve been waiting for a long time, and to get this opportunity is a great feeling.
“We’re raring to go.”
England discovered today the 13 names from which Australia will choose their team in Brisbane.
Among them are leg-spinner Steven Smith, the only inclusion from the A team England have beaten over the past four days, and left-arm orthodox Xavier Doherty.
The latter would be making his Test debut should he be picked, while Smith has just two caps.
Having taken a caning from Bell two days ago, Smith - bowled shouldering arms first ball by Tremlett this morning - must hope his normally reliable batting sneaks his inclusion.
Like Collingwood, he confirmed this winter’s series as an unrivalled event for any English or Australian cricketer.
Smith divulged too that home tactics will centre on trying to undermine England captain Andrew Strauss.
“We always look to target the captain,” he said.
“If we can get under Andrew Strauss’ skin and get him early and among the middle order that will be great for us.”
Either way, he is just hoping he gets his chance. “The Ashes are the pinnacle for an Australian cricketer,” said Smith.
“To be involved, I hope, will be a dream come true.”