Butcher looks beyond Brisbane

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Mark Butcher & Ian Healy

Mark Butcher drives through cover on his way to 116 in the drawn first Ashes Test of 1998-99. He believes the result at the Gabba will not necessarily be decisive this time around

Mark Butcher hit a fine century to help England draw the opening Ashes Test of 1998-99, but he insists the current squad need not panic should they suffer defeat in Brisbane this winter.

Butcher cracked 116 in England’s first innings at the Gabba 12 years ago and added an important 40 in the second innings as Alec Stewart’s men held on to claim a share of the spoils - albeit with the help of a thunderstorm on the final day.

Many observers feel this week's first Test will prove pivotal to England’s hopes of retaining the Ashes urn, but Butcher feels the team possess the necessary strength of character to bounce back if things do not go their way.

He told ecb.co.uk: “Of course you want to win the first Test, it’s as simple as that. Or at least not lose it.

"But looking at the way that this England team operates, I just think it wouldn’t be the end of the world if they should end up losing it.

“Brisbane is a real stronghold for Australia. They play well there and tend not to lose very many Test matches there, so it’s going to be a very tough ask.

“The most important thing is not to take a backward step, to come out and be very aggressive and go toe-to-toe with them from an early stage so they don’t get any sort of psychological advantage, regardless of the result.

“If it ends up being a close one and Australia nick it, so be it - move on to the next game.

“This England team believe they can win more than one Test match in any series and if they do that they will stand a very good chance of winning or retaining the Ashes.”

Although he scored three hundreds against Australia in his career, Butcher finished on the losing side in each of the four Ashes series he featured in.

The Gabba

A huge thunderstorm brought proceedings to an early close at Brisbane 12 years ago, ensuring England escaped with a draw

However, he is confident that England can secure a long-awaited success Down Under this winter and agrees with those who feel off-spinner Graeme Swann will be key to the tourists’ chances.

“I am hopeful,” he added. “Australia aren’t the side that they were the last time England were over there, not by a long chalk, and England hold the one ace which is Graeme Swann - he’s probably the stand-out bowler from both sides.

“In that respect, it couldn’t be more different. They had (Shane) Warne as the ace in the hole for so many years but we’ve now got the trump card on our side.”

Butcher is refreshingly modest when it comes to discussing his own sterling performance at Brisbane.

The Surrey batsman, who also reached three figures in Ashes matches at Headingley and Sydney in 2001 and 2003 respectively, admits he feared for his place in the side following a miserable run of low scores in the warm-up games.

However, he soon found his touch in an innings spanning over four and a half hours, striking 16 boundaries in his 236-ball stay at the crease.

Butcher said: “I’m very proud to have scored three hundreds against Australia in a period where they used to beat us on a regular basis. It’s something not many people managed to do.

“I suppose the circumstances leading up to the game made it a triumph of sorts. I’d had more stitches in my head than I’d scored runs in the warm-up matches.

“Matt Nicholson, who ended up being a team-mate of mine at the Oval, got one through my grille which opened up my forehead quite nicely and then Peter Such ran into me during a fielding drill so I ended up having two more stitches under my eyelid.

“In the actual Test match I managed to clear all of that away, but in the lead-up to it I was worried that I probably wasn’t going to get picked.

“It wouldn’t have been much of a surprise if I had not, but Alec (Stewart) and Bumble (England coach David Lloyd) trusted me to come good when the real games started and that’s how it turned out.

Mark Butcher & Australia

A triumphant Butcher leaves the field after his match-winning unbeaten knock of 173 in the fourth Ashes Test at Headingley in 2001

“We were on the back foot a little bit when it came to our first innings and I had decided that I was going to go out and be as positive as I could.

“I didn’t have any form behind me, or confidence, so I thought I would try and bluff my way into it by playing a few shots and it worked out okay.

“I remember hitting one straight back past Glenn McGrath for four, which was the first ball I’d middled in about a month a half, and that got me going really.”

Unforunately, Butcher found runs hard to come by for the remainder of the tour as his side slumped to a 3-1 series defeat.

But England will hope at least one of their batsmen can replicate his first Test efforts when battle commences in Brisbane on Thursday.

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