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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

One day to go

The build up to the Ashes continues. In today's Australian, for example, there is a glossy supplement and articles by Ricky Ponting "We've put on our Test match faces", Mike Atherton (via The Times) and, in less serious vein, the BBC's Australian Correspondent Nick Bryant "The baggy green goes metrosexual":

In this new celebritocracy, Clarke and Lara Bingle are obviously cast as Posh and Becks; Brett Lee is celebrated as much for his Bollywood melodies as his chin music; and Johnson achieves almost as much fame as the torso of the "Men of Cricket" calendar as the tormentor of visiting batsmen. After being sent home from England in disgrace, Andrew Symonds meets the televisual requirements of the age by seeking prime-time, public redemption: a soft-focus confessional on 60Minutes.

Atherton is close, though not as close as Ponting, to the action, so his views, many of which he'd expressed during his TV commentary stints during the England Lions match at Worcester, are particularly interesting. He describes what he sees as Australia's lack of "aura" or "presence" but in the end can't bring himself to conclude that England are favourites. Equals yes, but not favourites:

It is the lack of aura generally that stood out watching the Australians go about their business in Worcester. They have always been among the most down to earth, likeable and approachable of cricketers off the field. It was good to see some of them walking back to their hotel last week carrying their backpacks and not a security guard in sight, for instance - something from which England's more starry-eyed and precious bunch could learn.

But along with that bloke-next-door image there has always been, in the past decade, a heavy sprinkling of cricketing stardust. Sit a table away from Warne and Glenn McGrath at breakfast, and you knew that there were two players with more than a thousand Test wickets munching through their toast; or if you happened to be next to Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden, there were 53 Test centuries staring back at you. It takes the edge off their approachability.

That aura, that presence, is just not there now - indeed, there are a few who could easily walk down any high street in England and not be recognised. England, then, walks on to the field in Cardiff as equals, in their own minds and everyone else's. That is a big change.

Australia are a workmanlike side: fit, professional, battle-hardened, as all Australian cricketers are, but workmanlike nonetheless. It is a team typified, perhaps, by the likes of Marcus North, Simon Katich, Brad Haddin and Peter Siddle, good cricketers all but none of whom would have made any Australia team between 1993 and 2001 and all of whom have yet to prove their Ashes mettle.

Ashes history points to Australia - even in England where they have won more Tests than the home side. Whatever the outcome, though, another wonderful narrative, full of great characters, great deeds and great drama, is about to unfold.

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