Counting down the days

Posted in England in Australia 2010-11

Ashes urn

The ultimate prize: England begin their quest for the Ashes on November 25

The start of the Ashes is exactly two months away, and the first of England’s tour games little more than a month hence. The countdown, as they say, has begun.

Actually, it feels like the clock has been ticking for several months already, with England’s summer campaign treated by many as the hors d’oeuvre to the main course that lies ahead this winter.

The announcement of England’s Ashes squad this week, however, represented a significant landmark in the build-up to the most hyped series in cricket and served to focus the minds of those charged with retaining the urn.

While no-one knows for sure how the series will pan out (although Glenn McGrath is sure to pop up soon, replete with predictions of an Australia whitewash), there will be much of which we can be certain over the next two months.

A steady stream of former captains and players offering their opinions and memories is a given, a staple part of any Ashes build-up.

Nasser Hussain, Alec Stewart and Ian Botham have already had their say on this week, while Michael Vaughan has challenged the players to become “legends of the game” by winning in Australia.

Mike Gatting knows his diary will be full in the coming weeks: as skipper when England last triumphed Down Under, in 1986-87, he has been the ‘go to’ man for Ashes previews for the past two decades. (Needless to say, watch this space.)

We are sure to hear from our fair share of Australians, too, and it will be no great surprise when they throw their backing behind their own country – as Hussain and co have done with England in the past 48 hours.

The boundaries between patriotism and jingoism are somewhat less clear in the Australian press, but there will be no shortage of advice for the current England crop from these that have been there, done that and got the ‘I’ve been on an Ashes tour’ T-shirt about the reception they can expect to receive as soon as they land on Aussie soil.

Playing in Australia is different, they will be told – and in unceremonious terms by the home fans. (Bets are now being taken on how many references you spot to the “notorious Bay 13” at the MCG.)

A succession of ex-Test players - or current ones in the case of Mitchell Johnson - will be wheeled out to claim England need toughening up, they don’t like it up ’em, they won’t be able to handle the heat, blah blah blah (I’m getting bored just typing it).

England Ashes

Can England surpass their feats of 2009 by winning Down Under? There will be no shortage of people claiming to know the answer

The green-fingered amongst us can look forward to lengthy discussions over the pitches England are likely to encounter, while I can’t wait for the double-page spreads that will inevitably appear in the newspapers, adorned with graphics attempting to explain the workings of the Kookaburra ball. The Jabulani will be jealous.

Rest assured that England’s 5-0 defeat on the previous Ashes tour (with compulsory replays of Steve Harmison’s first-ball wide to second slip) will get plenty of airtime on Australian channels, although it will be interesting to see how many conveniently forget that their team lost the last times these sides met, in 2009.

The same condition afflicted us English in the build-up to last year’s series, when 2006-07 was airbrushed from the memory by countless fans as they cast their mind back to the glorious summer of 2005.

Yet for all my attempts at objectivity, isn’t this the reason why we all love the Ashes so much?

The rivalry between the oldest of cricketing enemies. The banter between the fans. The excitement it creates.

It is one of the quirks of modern journalism that the build-up to a sporting event occupies infinitely more time than the event itself (witness weeks of endless chatter preceding 90 minutes of football), but, in the case of the Ashes, the hype is justified.

Listening to players past and present, it is obvious that this is still the toughest tour, the one they look forward to most, the pinnacle of their career.

You may have heard it before. One person's words might well morph into someone else's. And the pattern of media coverage is likely to be familiar as the clock ticks towards November 25.

But this is the Ashes, after all, and that is why we make no excuses for bringing you all of the above. Go on, admit it: you’d miss it if we didn’t.

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