A tri-series after the Champions Trophy, inevitably featuring India and Sri Lanka, has all the enduring quality of a civics class after a nice lunch. Inevitably then, the cricket world turns its eyes towards a contest that promises to be rich in character and which will be a great test of grit and temperament and all those lovely words that we grew up associating test cricket with. And as the teams approach each other from corners so completely different from those they occupied for almost all of twenty five years, I will be very interested in seeing whether…well…England can do an Australia.
Let me explain. Between 1987 and 2005, and one Ashes series after that, England were the side that turned up to be trampled over. Sometimes they tried, sometimes they gave the impression they were packing the white flag into their kit-bag. And so till the Ashes of 2005 so dramatically happened, a young adult in England wouldn’t have known that beating Australia was a possibility, let alone an option That wasn’t only because the Aussies had an extraordinary collection of players, it was because they never let go. Forget a window, there wasn’t a sliver of light coming below the door for England.
Now, they come from different corners. England marching forward as favourites, possessed of players that shouldn’t ever lose. Australia are limping in, beset by trouble and a sudden flight of batting talent. At the turn of the century, a similar difference in class would have meant a 5-0 win for Australia. Now do England have it in them, with this scarcely believable turn of events, to do an Australia? Shut them out? 5-0?
Last year I saw both teams play in India and though conditions were very different from those looming in England, I saw two very contrasting traits. England hadn’t won in India since 1984-85, had a phobia for spin and a reputation for not being the best travellers. A turning ball carried the same fear as malaria. In the first test in Ahmedabad, they were bowled out for 191, saw India pile on 521-8 (decl) and slumped to 199-5. I promise you the words, “4-0” were on everybody’s lips. Then Alastair Cook and Matt Prior added 157 in 60 overs, England kept India in the field for 154 overs and even though they lost, the courage they had shown augured well. It was like losing