Cricket: Australians mindful of sackcloth and Ashes: The tourists' captain, supported by a youthful squad, predicts another intriguing battle with the old enemy. Martin Johnson reports

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The Independent Online
THE 1993 Australians flew into London yesterday morning and immediately took a 1-0 lead in this summer's sartorial stakes. The holders of the Ashes, doubtless aware of the sackcloth image that England picked up in India, arrived at their West End hotel looking as though they had been shopping just around the corner in Savile Row.

Kitted out in identical dark green double-breasted suits, it was more of a male model strut down the catwalk than the traditional meet-the- players press conference, and the only sign of designer stubble was on the top of Merv Hughes' head. Merv, whose coiffeur suggests that his agent is busy negotiating sponsorship deals with Flymo, still sports what appears to be a large furry koala underneath his nose, and if any English bowler is capable of singeing David Boon's moustache on this tour, we have the makings of a decent bush fire.

On Boon's last visit here in 1989, several gallons of froth had to be squeegeed out of his moustache, the by-product of consuming 57 'tinnies' on the flight over - a feat not to be found in Wisden, but nonetheless thought to be a record.

This time, however, all the tourists made it off the plane unaided, and there was enough of the amber stuff at the official reception to float an aircraft carrier. Years ago, this occasion used to be the traditional way of introducing the tourists, nowadays it is more a giant vehicle for plugging the sponsors.

The room appeared to have been wallpapered in beer mats, tables groaned under the weight of the lager cans, and, leaving nothing to chance, the sponsors invited the photographers to point their lenses at a large custard yellow cake with XXXX plastered all over it.

It was alleged to have been baked in commemoration of Allan Border's achievement in passing Sunil Gavaskar's record of Test match runs, notwithstanding the fact that this was a milestone the Australian captain passed two months ago.

Not suprisingly, in view of England's performances on the subcontinent, Border was asked what he thought of the home team's prospects of regaining the Ashes, and, equally unsurprisingly, made the usual noises about taking nothing for granted, and never underestimating the Pom.

'I hope it's as competitive as it was in 1989 here,' was the one tongue in cheek comment he allowed himself (Australia won 4-0) but otherwise said: 'I'm certainly not over-confident, as England still have a lot of big-name and class players.'

Gower perhaps? 'I was surprised when he was left out for India, and I'll be watching that situation with some interest.' Botham? 'Well, being realistic this is 1993 and not 1981, and while he generally saves his best for Australia, he needs to show the selectors something, just like Gower.'

Curiously, Australian captains have no say in tour selection (although after last winter, there may be a case for extending this to English ones) and if Border had had his way, Dean Jones would have been a familiar face in yesterday's photo call. 'I am a Jones fan,' Border said, 'but other blokes have outplayed him, and decisions were made around a youth policy.' Too old, then. Where have we heard that one before?

Six of their 17-man squad are under 25, with Border comfortably the veteran on his fourth tour of England, and his third as captain. Seven others were here in 1989, Mark Taylor, the vice-captain, Boon, Hughes, Ian Healy, Steve Waugh, Tim Zoehrer, and Tim May. May did not play a Test in the last series here, but given England's shortcomings against spin, both he and the leg- spinner, Shane Warne, will be confident of prominent roles this summer.

Australia's confidence can probably be gauged by the fact that, unlike in 1989, they are not flying in their own beer supplies - the stuff brewed over here having been adjuged close enough to the real thing - and neither, again unlike '89, is there a restriction on something the Aussies are reputedly adept enough at anyhow, leaving the sheilas at home. Mrs Border, in fact, flies in today.

Proceedings concluded with more sponsors' plugs and an informal gathering for drinks with the players, before the tourists' decided that they had had enough of the XXXX, and disappeared upstairs to catch up on a few ZZZZs.

Such's class action, Scoreboard, page 29

(Photograph omitted)