The issues. Whether or not Tremlett and Prior are ‘risked’. Whether or not Carberry makes a doughty seventy-something in the first test (and Root either triumphs or drops anchor at six). And –surprisingly? – whether or not rain spoils Brisbane. Job done. No dramas. End of column.
Yeh right. Too much fun to be had to get that focussed. Too much atmosphere to stage-dive into. So, of course, I will.
It’s not, at the time of writing, totally clear what the England side will look like. Who will represent us in that gladiators-in-white flannels thing soon to flutter into our consciousness via some barely-credible signal bounced off the moon/Ayers Rock and Kylie Mynogue’s left nipple. Who exactly will that be? And how much does the finer detail matter? When it’s actually all about a blur of our lot steaming in to scud cherry-red grenade-replacements at a couple of isolated Aussies performing defiant shuttles across the transported village green? Do we care who (exactly) does the slaying – which symbols come to hold aloft the severed heads? Do we?
‘Cos it’s all a bit – in fact remarkably, is it not? – tribal? And therefore both appalling and wonderfully of us. And given that this (cricket) us is maybe more… well, middle-class and allegedly therefore able to simultaneously walk, talk and think than the footie us (for example) this does make the ashes yet more extraordinary, huh? And anthropologically hilarious? I think so too.
But enough of the painstakingly researched detail. We need to talk about the forty-four limbed monster that is the team. Because despite my hunch that Broad is so pumped with Vitriopomp (available from all good pharmacists now) that he might win the first test within the first ten overs, there is likely to be a contest of sorts thereafter. Maybe a brilliant one. The poutingly punchy non-walking blonde may well reaffirm that what really matters is more about transcending lust than technical nuance but he may not. In which case we are drawn in to the myriad confrontations – the chess match of it, the bit for brainy blokes who say things like fascinating and I dunno… read the Telegraph. Here the microweb of bluffs, plans and sledgeo-funk may yet entrap us, enthral us even in our starlit vigil. Thus, if ‘nothing’s happening’, the coach and the expert in all of us will come out to play.
We’ll bang on to the sleeping dog about why that third seamer question will be so pivotal. How reckless it was for Flowers – that i-i-diot Flowers! – to have left out the season’s leading wicket-taker. How we always suspected Finn’s temperament just wasn’t up to it. How Tremlett’s such a li-a-bility – can’t get him on the park without pulling an eyelash. How Onions would have mopped up the last three no problem, ‘stead of them getting a hundred and forty bloody runs!! In short, our knowledge will grow in direct proportion to the drift against us.
But will there be drift? Or rather when is it most likely to hurt us?
Feels to me like there is more class in the England side – Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Bell, Prior, Swann, Broad and Anderson falling into the Top Player category – but how much of this is an anglo-centric view? For the Aussies Watson, Clarke… Siddle maybe for his fire? Then I’m either not convinced or not familiar enough, or just biased. Others feel more like good players (Finch?) with a tad more to prove.
But where – if these things turn out to be in any way predictable – are the likely chinks in the armour for England? Obviously the promotion of Carberry may be something of a gamble which conceivably could undermine them from ball one – meaning the scramble could start early. The contrary view is of course that Carbs may be brilliant and that if he isn’t the inclusion of Root at six will compensate – may even prove a masterstroke. How great would it be if Root came in and absolutely destroyed a tiring Australian attack?
I also love the idea that Carberry may go from part-time electrician to ashes god but am unable to expect it just now. The first test is hooooge for him and I genuinely wish him well; signs were encouraging when finally England got some meaningful practice recently but I was frankly not struck on him when I saw him dab and feel unconvincingly at the Swalec in August. (And I fully accept this was a very different form – and a very different form of event – to Brisbane.) Carberry’s temperament however appears to be good; if that holds he may not need to be special to be effective.
That third paceman call for England feels like it may be most central. And most likely to get us armchair cricket-rocket-scientists animated. Putting aside the Finn/Tremlett/Rankin conundrum, I have a certain sympathy for the pro-Onions faction. Right at this moment (and in this weather?) yonder Graham of Durhamshire has a particular appeal as safe-pair-of-hands-plus option. In fact he is palpably a whole lot better than that; his classic seamerness, that subtler timbre to his threat (compared to the robotic violence of the other candidates) plus his broader range of questions asked may not be the photofit for hard, dry Australian pitches but is not multidimensionality in a side generally advantageous? In his absence I slightly favour Rankin – strong unbreakdownable action.
The Prior situation is less fraught with choices. If he is fit (and not likely to break down and bugger up his series) he plays. Otherwise it’s the Yorkie lad. Might actually be good to have two keepers comfortable – or at least experienced – in ashes-style conflict.
But it’s the craic and the sledging and the rivalry that’s special. Us growed up folks regressing into that diabolical/essential/childish(?)/politically indefensible world of disproportion.
Don’t tell me you’re unfamiliar with this falling – so inevitable, so natural – into hallucinatory mode? Combining palpitating nationalism with higher-planed, weirdly supra-personal capacity to judge? Where the default position is (in this case Arm’s Length) Intermittently-Frantic Bolshie Interventionism. As though we too, are both satellites – omnipotent, circling at some supremely discreet but advantageous realm and then zooming in madly to bawl, or throw fruit – and (I guess) The Barmy Army on the ground. In their faces. Us.