Australia’s first Test series this summer will be against a challenging Pakistan side.
It is probably one of the more difficult things to achieve in sport.
To come back from a disappointing loss. To suppress your feelings of despair. To shift your tortured mind from the torment of a missed opportunity.
Every wretched Australian cricket tragic knows what happened at Headingley.
Australia dismantled England for just 67 runs in their first innings, yet Australia lost.
The Aussies set England a daunting 359 to win in the fourth innings, yet England were not daunted.
When the last English batsman entered the cauldron, there were still 73 runs to get, yet the English prevailed.
Too many of the Australian players carry the grisly scars of battle.
What will Nathan Lyon’s mindset be as he re-enters the arena? Surely the match-winning run out he squandered when he snatched at the ball will play on his mind.
How will Tim Paine feel? Doubtless he knows that, but for a frivolous DRS challenge, his team would have been cavorting around Headingley, celebrating their retention of the hallowed Ashes.
And what about the other Australian bowlers? Heralded as an undeniable force following the first-innings demolition, they couldn’t defend a record run chase in the second. How will their collective confidence be when they next run in to bowl to Stokes in the summer of Ben?
Finally, what about Steve Smith?
It’s easy to picture Smith as an unfailing, infallible batting figure given his twin tons at Edgbaston followed by another 92 at Lord’s. Yet, is he not afflicted by the same frailties as other men?
How will Smith feel as Jofra Archer glides in towards him? He reported flashbacks to Phil Hughes when he was felled by Archer’s bouncer. Will disturbing images of his own mortality betray his tough resolve when Archer releases the ball?
Nobody would blame him if they did.
It’s one of the hardest things to do in professional sport. To compete when – absent the whimsical hand of fate – the competition may already have been decided.
The Ashes should be ours already.
Yet, our boys must summon, from deep within, the strength to overcome an English team inspired by a profound sense of destiny. Joe Root’s boys genuinely hear the triumphant echoes of 2005. And of ’81.
There is, however, partial precedent which favours a stirring comeback.
In the Australian summer of 1982/83, the Aussies commenced the Boxing Day Test two-nil up with two to play.
Famously, Jeff Thomson joined Allan Border at the wicket, late on the fourth day, with 74 to win. In a soul-destroying climax, Thommo fell when a single slash to the fence would have seen the Ashes won.
As in this series, the English victory at the MCG kept the contest alive.
So Greg Chappell’s team had to gather in Sydney just a week later to steel themselves for an English onslaught. That the Aussies prevailed with a strong draw to win the series – and with it the Ashes – was a testament to the character of that team.
Similar temperament was demonstrated by Allan Border’s men in 1993/94 when they lost the second Test to the South Africans by just five runs to go one-nil down in the three-Test series. The Aussies recoiled in Adelaide to handsomely win the match and square the series.
Even after the Edgbaston classic of 2005 – where England won by just two runs – Ricky Ponting’s Australians fought hard for a draw in the next Test at Old Trafford and the Aussie hopes of retaining the Ashes were preserved.
And now we are back in Manchester. What will this Old Trafford Test hold?
Fighting hard to overcome a heart-breaking loss is one of the hardest things to do in sport.
Will the current generation of Australian cricketers exhibit the same single-minded, Pommy-baiting, pitch-quaking, loss-abating, Ashes-history-making, soaring courage of Aussie teams past?
I hope so! We are about to find out.