Little Englanders bowling wide of the stumps in Ashes debate

The cricket season may have got off to a cold, soggy start, and the first Test between England and Australia may still be 93 days away, but the battle for the Ashes is already hotting up.

Contests between sporting rivals bring out both the best and the worst in individuals. In 1981 Ian Botham became an iconic figure on the back of his heroics. And in the last decade Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, two of the greatest bowlers cricket has seen, have saved many of their finest displays for the Ashes.

Yet there is an unsavoury side to this eagerly awaited contest, and it tends to take place off the field. The phoney war has begun. Jeff Thomson, the outspoken former Australian fast bowler, has compared Matthew Hoggard to a "net bowler" and labelled Michael Vaughan's side as an "embarrassment". Darren Gough has never minced his words, and the former England Test bowler accused Thomson of being "disrespectful and unintelligent".

Though unnecessary, and slightly unpleasant, this is only harmless tittle-tattle, and the pair will probably have a laugh over a pint of lager when they meet in the summer.

A more disconcerting attitude, though, is the xenophobic one that has been expressed in a couple of national newspapers during the last week. Both the Daily Mail and the Sunday Telegraph have criticised English counties for employing Australians as overseas players. This, they believe, has given members of Ricky Ponting's squad the chance to gain vital experience in English conditions. And apparently it will come back to haunt England when the Ashes start on 21 July.

What utter claptrap. Australia are not favourites to beat England this summer because 12 of their 16-man squad have played county cricket. Ricky Ponting's side are expected to retain the Ashes because they have a team containing better cricketers.

The British Isles is not the only destination visited by the Australian cricket team. Since England last travelled Down Under in the winter of 2002-03 Australia have toured New Zealand, India, Sri Lanka and the West Indies, countries where they arrived with little experience. Yet on these trips they won 10 and lost two of 14 Test matches.

It is also wrong to infer that the overseas players are the ones to benefit from the experience. Cricketers from all around the world apparently use English domestic cricket as a finishing school. If this is the case, then why don't the 350 English-qualified cricketers make as much of it as those from Australia, South Africa, India and Pakistan.

At the start of my career I learnt a great deal from Wayne Daniel and Desmond Haynes, Middlesex's overseas players. The West Indians did not offer me a huge amount of technical advice but their attitude and their professionalism had a very positive influence on my cricket.

It is also doubtful that Andrew Strauss would have made such an impressive start to his England career without Justin Langer. No one works harder for Middlesex than Langer and it is hard to imagine the Aussies slagging him off should Strauss help England win the Ashes.

It is true that this sort of arrangement is rarely reciprocated by Australian state sides and one-eyed Aussies would state that this is because "none of you poms are good enough, mate." But that is their choice. Our domestic game has become richer and far more entertaining because of their involvement.

Shane Warne will play for Hampshire at Hove on Wednesday and isn't it wonderful that cricket lovers here can turn up and watch the greatest spin bowler cricket has seen for £10?

Despite the attitude of Australian state sides opportunities exist for English players. Each winter dozens visit Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, where they play grade cricket. The deals may not be as lucrative but it is there if you want it.

Alec Stewart, the former England batsman-wicketkeeper, felt his time in Perth moulded him. And he is not alone. Strauss, Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood, three who hope to turn over the Aussies this summer, have returned from winters Down Under in better shape than when they left.

Since Australia won the Ashes in 1989 English cricket - central contracts, four-day domestic cricket, Academy, pyramid system supporting the Test side - has attempted to copy their structure. If anything it should be the Australians who are becoming paranoid, not us.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own