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30th November 2017

Ashes Preview

Come on lads, make Jim Jeffries cry

A cold, hard, look at the god damn facts. In seven series — that’s just as many as The Game of Thrones and six more than Bellamy’s People — England have won just once in Australia. Back then, the England side had flaws, but they were of a more personal nature.

Strauss was a Tory, Trott a neurotic, Kevin Pietersen. But each was, at one or more points in their career, the greatest living Englishman. Or more accurately, the greatest living South African.

Cricket’s strength is in its particularity. The home advantage in football has been declining since the Second World War, but in Test cricket the reverse is true. Prior to 2002, 117 Ashes Tests were won by the home team, and 98 by visitors. Since then, the respective figures are 25 and 7. Some might construe this as a problem, but for me, this is a much of the beauty of the game.

An example: Moeen Ali had to sit out the warm-up match against Cricket Australia XI at Perth. This is significant only because Perth is where the third Test will take place, and Moeen missed the chance to harness the Fremantle Doctor, the afternoon breeze that blows from the Swan River and allows the offspinner to drift the ball away from the right-handed batsman. Isn’t it eloquent?

Not always. Particularity does not mean that everywhere is particularly eloquent. The Gabba in Brisbane, where the first Test takes place – the Gabbatoir – is a case in point’. It’s quick, it’s nasty, it’s where strong men throw it at your face then spit on the ground. It’s not the subtle movement and quiet applause that suit Anderson and Broad. It is wired into Australian cricket.

In England, we use a Duke’s cricket ball, which is far more susceptible to swing than the Australian Kookaburra. To take wickets with a Kookaburra ball in an Australian climate you need pace and bounce, and an essential anti-intellectualism – qualities the home side have in abundance.

As I write, we are an hour from play in the first Test. An hour until Joe Root leads a Stokes-less side out in front of 40,000 angry convicts’ grandsons, and an hour until I settle down to attempting to sync up BT Sport with Test Match Special. I fear it will be a struggle for both of us. For England to retain the Ashes, we must take a leaf out of Jarvis Cocker’s book and use the one thing we’ve got more of. And that’s our minds.

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