Ever since the tourists arrived in Perth a week ago, a number of former Australian players have either written off England's chances or attempted to downgrade this winter's series. Then yesterday, the Australian captain, Mark Taylor, returning home after leading his country to their first series victory in Pakistan for 39 years, claimed that beating England would be greeted with no more satisfaction than success over any of the other leading Test nations.
"I don't know about the Ashes as the ultimate," Taylor said. "It is up there on a par with all the other series. What we have done in the Australian team in the last 10 years is try to put every series up there - not just say we want to win the Ashes or we would like to beat West Indies. We want to win every series whether it is India, Pakistan, the West Indies, South Africa or wherever. They are all different challenges in their own right. I look on the Ashes as another challenge."
But the England coach, well accustomed to the phoney war which accompanies the start of any Ashes series, dismissed the idea that England players might think the same.
"It's a lifetime ambition for a lot of these players and it is a chance to give a terrific account of themselves," Lloyd said. "We can talk forever. But it will stop sometime and Australia will play England on the field, and the talk finishes."
Late yesterday, Michael Atherton was doubtful for the four-day match which begins today against Western Australia at the WACA ground in Perth, after bruising his hip against the ACB Chairman's XI at Lilac Hill on Thursday.
"It is pretty stiff in that hip area and we will look at that tomorrow," Lloyd said. "It is probably just a bruise but it is a struggle runningand there has been a bit of a reaction to it. He will only play if he is right."
Atherton's likely absence leaves England with either Mark Ramprakash or John Crawley to fill the opening place alongside Mark Butcher, with Crawley being the more likely to play.
Alec Stewart, who was withdrawn from fielding on Thursday with a sore back, was largely anonymous at practice, restricting himself to a few gentle throw-downs with the wicketkeeping gloves, while Ben Hollioake's groin injury kept him on the sidelines. According to Lloyd, though, Stewart is 99.9 per cent certain of playing today.Reuse content