Is England’s one-day victory an Ashes pointer?
Well at least one England team conjured up a winning performance. The country’s footballers may have done their best to reduce the nation to a widespread state of mourning/anger/bewilderment, but the cricketers did their best to alleviate the gloom at Old Trafford with a Natwest Series-clinching victory against the old foe.
The one-wicket defeat of Australia not only moved England into an unassailable 3-0 lead in the five-match series, it also gave the pre-Ashes hype machine a boost – as if it needed one.
But while the footballers’ chances of World Cup glory were inflated to unrealistic levels in the aftermath of a scratchy 1-0 defeat of Slovenia, the expectation that will accompany the cricketers Down Under is at least based on a culmination of successes against Australia, primarily, as well as in other contests.
Take Australia as an individual entity. England hold the Ashes, they got the better of them in the recent World Twenty20 and as of Sunday they have triumphed in the most current one-day international skirmishes.
That’s an impressive run of results to take into the most difficult challenge of all.
However, will it make any diference come the first Test in Brisbane on November 25?
The most obvious answer to the question would be yes.
England hold the upper hand over their Australian counterparts in results and psychologically they can benefit from knowing that they have been in charge more often than not.
A number of the players, as has rarely been the case in the past, have little in the way of mental scars from previous hidings which can count for something and so should go into the Ashes expecting to do well, as
opposed to hoping to compete, which has occurred before.
But there is a counter-argument that would suggest the complete opposite, that what is happening now and has taken place over the last 12 months or so counts for next to nothing.
For starters, England’s record in Australia over the last 20-odd years is appalling.
Ever since Mike Gatting led his side to a 2-1 success in 1986-7 various England sides have travelled the 12,000 miles and returned having been given a thorough lesson.
Remember the Ashes were claimed in 2005 and followed up by a 5-0 hammering 18 months later.
And there is the fact that the most recent victories have occurred in limited overs cricket which bears no resemblance to the five-day format.
Some of the personnel are different, the demands aren’t the same and, in case we forget, it’s being played in vastly contrasting conditions.
Nothing slights a nation’s sporting psyche more than being taken down by an old adversary – as this country found out at the weekend – and it is a safe bet that Ricky Ponting et al will have not taken too kindly to last year’s surrender of the famous urn.
England are on top at the moment but in five months time it will be of no consequence whatsoever as the slate will have been wiped totally clean.
Alec Swann is a former Northants and Lancashire opener turned cricket writer. Outside of the joys of a Test match, Newcastle United and golf generally occupy his other sporting interests with a soft spot for the Newcastle Knights.
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