England undaunted by Australia's Ashes squad
Respect rather than fear was the English reaction to the announcement of Australia's Ashes squad.
"Ponting's team looks a good one, but it carries no aura," wrote the former England bowler Mike Selvey in the Guardian. "Cut away the hype and there is little physical and technical beyond the normal with which England, on their game, should not be able to cope."
Less than half of the Australia squad have experience of an Ashes series, but Phillip Hughes, Peter Siddle and Andrew McDonald all helped achieve a 2-1 series win in South Africa in March.
And if the absence of stellar names like Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath has allowed England to sleep a little more easily, its former captain Michael Atherton sounded a note of caution.
"The last time such an inexperienced squad arrived in England in 1989 they were greeted with a touch of sympathy and condescension," he wrote in The Times. "England ended up using 29 players to try to beat them and lost 4-0."
The psychological scars from that series proved so durable that up until 2005, when England finally regained the Ashes after 16 years, its batsmen used to spend longer worrying about Australia's bowlers than they actually spent playing them.
Robin Smith was one of the world's leading run scorers until he ran into Shane Warne in 1993 and developed a phobia of spin bowling that effectively curtailed his international career.
And Smith at least had a career. In the same series opener Mark Lathwell was so crippled by anxiety that he lasted just two matches, drifted back into the county game and retired before his 30th birthday.
Australia's strategy of "mental disintegration" was refined and perfected under the captaincy of Steve Waugh, but given the personnel at his disposal this was understandable. "The spine was awe-inspiring," Selvey said. "(Matthew) Hayden, (Ricky) Ponting, (Adam) Gilchrist, Warne, McGrath. Scary. That has all gone though."
Only Ponting remains of this quintet of players who could intimidate England by reputation alone, though that hasn't stopped Australia from trying.
Ponting, Australia's captain, said on Tuesday that his side would be singling out his counterpart Andrew Strauss, but the England captain refused to take the bait.
"I don't mind them targeting me," he said. "It's something you expect from the Australians but not something we're going to spend a lot of time concentrating on. It's not something that particularly interests me."
Nor was Strauss reading too much into Australia's relative lack of experience.
"Possibly we could exploit that," he said. "But any Australian side who come over here is going to be pretty strong. The most important thing is that we play our conditions well. We obviously know those conditions so it is up to us to play better in them than Australia do."
If Australia does have a weakness, it comes in the spin bowling department. The selection of Nathan Hauritz as the only orthodox slow bowler left English observers distinctly underwhelmed, to the point that Geoffrey Boycott argued Warne should be persuaded to make an international comeback — as captain — at the age of 39.
"The smartest move would be to call Shane Warne back," Boycott told the Telegraph. "He's the best man for the job and would be a better captain than Ricky Ponting, such is his cricket brain. I can't see it happening though."
The five-test series begins on July 8, in Cardiff.
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