Could the Wags hurt England's Ashes hopes?

The wives and partners have arrived Down Under – and it may not be good news for Andy Flower.
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The WAGs arrived yesterday. They brought with them the children. Thus, at a stroke was six weeks of intense male bonding ended. England's cricket tour of Australia will never quite be the same again in terms of its testosterone levels and if it results in a reversal of the present good fortune there may yet be hell to pay.

With two days to go before the third Test at the Waca, a match that could decide the destiny of the Ashes, the players will no longer have only each other and the odd old mate for company. But equally they have in their sights the greatest prize in their sport.

In the old days of cricket touring, it was never like this. The boys sailed away to Australia for six months and despite the lack of distraction, perhaps because of it, still usually lost. For the past 20 years or so, WAGs – wives and girlfriends, that is – have been in attendance at certain stages of foreign excursions.

During the last Ashes tour a few seemed to be around for most of it. Not long before the first Test began in Brisbane, the fast bowler Stephen Harmison was reported to be worried about the ticketing arrangements for his family and proceeded not long after to deliver the most famous wide in history as the first ball of the series.

To preclude that kind of occurrence this time, Andy Flower, the team's coach, banned all and any visits by families until last week in Melbourne. It would have been until Perth this week but pregnancy meant that the curtain had to be lifted early for some who would shortly be advised not to fly.

Perhaps it should not be a contentious issue. Most men (and women) go to work and then go home to the families in the evening. It is dissimilar, of course, for at least two reasons: sport is sport with the team thing being of obvious significance, and while the families might be here on holiday their blokes most definitely are here to work.

WAGs first came to prominence as an entity during the football World Cup in Germany in 2006 when they operated as a perfumed invading army. But they have been around in cricket for much longer. On the 1995 tour of South Africa when they arrived en masse for the Cape Town Test, the England manager Ray Illingworth observed that the team room had come to resemble a crèche.

It was again in Cape Town last year that the team moved from the five-star hotel in which they had been staying during the third Test, to a seven-star residence nearby where they spent five days in luxury with their families before travelling up to Johannesburg for the fourth and last Test. They lost by an innings and 74 runs and if it was not the relaxation to blame but Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, it certainly did not seem to have helped too much.

The same thing could conceivably happen again and if it does some way will no doubt be sought to find the wives and kids guilty. Flower, of course, is in a position where he is damned if he does, damned if he doesn't. He has already upset some members of his team – Kevin Pietersen was a case in point – by imposing the blanket ban for the first weeks of the tour.

"Hopefully, the impact will be positive," said Flower. "Obviously the guys are all looking forward to seeing their wives and kids but it changes things definitely. It is up to us in the management and up to the players to take it in our stride and handle it maturely.

"It might have been a distraction at the start when we were trying to embed certain training principles and things but I hope that the timing is right and that, if anything, it is a good distraction."

Flower is aware not only that some of his players were miffed but that there is still a vocal minority who think that all this is nothing to do with women and children, who are best kept under lock and key at home. These are the same people who think that players flying home mid-tour to be at the births of children is plain bonkers.

There may be a serious aside to that in Perth this week. Jimmy Anderson, the fast bowler, arrived back from England yesterday after the birth of his second daughter having flown home after the grand victory in Adelaide last Tuesday. Not only may he struggle to overcome the effects of two long-haul flights in five days – that is why the team spent almost a week here before playing a match – but he has also had to leave his family at home while most of his colleagues are just reintroducing themselves to theirs.

Anderson will play and will probably have Chris Tremlett as his new-ball partner. Nothing is set in concrete yet but Flower said that the draw against Victoria had merely cemented previous thoughts. He has two days not to be distracted by family concerns to confirm it.

"We have got a group of almost 30 people here," said Flower. "You're not going to get all the players and all the management agreeing exactly on all the dates that you allow it. You've just got no chance. If you had a group of 30 IBM executives going away and trying to get the timing right you couldn't get everyone happy. So it's not surprising but it's just got to be dealt with and communicated with amongst the group properly and that has happened.

"Someone has to make a decision in the end and that was me. Someone has to draw the line somewhere and hopefully it works out OK. When we talk about hardships on tour let's all keep it in perspective. I don't think up to now it's been a terrible hardship. Of course we have missed our families and they have missed us but we know what a true hardship is and what isn't and this is on that side of the spectrum."

In any case they are here now. It will shortly be known, as in all aspects of marriage, whether it is for better or for worse.

Comments