Just for a moment - no more but still enough to induce nightmares for a month - it was possible to watch Andrew Flintoff and Ricky Ponting yesterday and imagine that it would be like this for the rest of the winter. There was Flintoff, falling for something akin to the three-card trick and having only fleeting luck with his bowlers.
He could not even rely on his big mate, Stephen Harmison. These are early days, the phoney war is still being conducted, but Harmison is the man from whom Fred is expected to extract his very best. Not yesterday, he didn't.
And then there was Ponting, letting his bowlers go about their work, making inspired changes which always seemed to take wickets (five times in all) and having a team of batsmen who were also craftsmen. If one failed another one came along. All so easy.
Then came their respective appearances before the microphones and notebooks. Flintoff looked tired and for all his natural attempts at a smile he was careworn. After one week. There are six months to come. Ponting was chipper, carefully gracious but ready to score a cunning point.
Flintoff looked for something, anything about which to be upbeat. "The one thing we wanted at the top of the order was to get off to a good start," he said. "Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell played well and then Jimmy Anderson bowled well, so did Sajid Mahmood with the new ball. There were positives but we're bitterly disappointed."
He could not concede that any of yesterday's performance was connected to the Ashes, but he could not escape its pertinence to the short form. England, despite Fred professing to be happy with the talent and character at his disposal, remain awful at it.
"It's not through not trying, it's a young side with a little bit of inexperience. Senior players have to step up if we have got any aspirations of doing anything in the rest of this winter."
He meant England's form at one-day cricket, but everybody who listened to him, having witnessed what had just taken place, feared that it might have an all too sombre reflection on something that matters a great deal more to many Englishmen.
Ponting was perfectly happy with his charges. He could wax lyrical about the young bowlers, Shane Watson and Mitchell Johnson, who each took three wickets, and he did not forego the opportunity.
"The result the other night wasn't what we were after but we came here with a nothing-to-lose attitude," he said. "We didn't get off to a flier but it ended up being very comfortable. I thought Watson and Johnson were both outstanding. Watson's bouncer has become important to us and Johnson is improving with every game. He's definitely in the mix for the Ashes."
Most of Ponting's ploys came off in a manner in which they frequently did not in the 2005 English summer. Not the least was the bouncer from Watson which Flintoff hungrily pounced on as far as mid-wicket. The question about whether that strategy might work in the Ashes could have been planted.
"I think we can [use that strategy] for sure," Ponting said. "A lot of their players like to play that shot and at certain times through the last Ashes series I think we felt the grounds were quite small in England and they could just lob it over [our] heads. The grounds are bigger in Australia so we might have some success."
So the Champions Trophy did have a little something to do with the Ashes then. Damien Martyn cut through the caution. "We've been waiting for this game since we left England. We'll enjoy the day and the moment." When they left England. The Oval and all that. It seemed so long ago.Reuse content