Mark Butcher: It's a thrilling risk, and middle England must now stand up
Sunday 17 July 2005
Eight years ago, for instance, things got off to an earlier start but the mood was just as pervasive. I made my debut in the First Test of that series. England won it after beating Australia in the one-dayers. The mood swept the country.
These early exchanges have not been entirely dissimilar. England have whacked them a couple of times in the one-dayers, as they did in 1997. This time, things have probably been heightened because there is a belief around that England can regain the Ashes. They can too, but to do so the side will have to play at 90 to 95 per cent of their ability for 90 to 95 per cent of the time.
The middle order of England's batting is what leaps out of the teamsheet. Numbers four and five have played three Tests between them, number six has never played against Australia. It is a selection imbued with risk but we can only know just how risky when they play.
I have spoken to Graham Thorpe about this and my view is that it is almost better that they have done it this way. The selectors have been decisive now, rather than changing their mind later on. Graham was fit, told them so and they have been forced to act. Thorpe's attitude, by the way, has been perfect.
Inadvertently, of course, the make-up of the team will change the way that England play, even if it was not a conscious ploy. Looking at the line-up it is a given that they will play attacking cricket.
To leave out a player of Thorpe's style and experience was a big thing to do. The way Kevin Pietersen has settled into one-day international cricket meant he was making a case on the bounds of being unanswerable. There was, however, another approach that they might have considered.
Almost everybody was saying how the last batting place was between the two of them, but Ian Bell might have come into the equation. He will make a lot of runs for England but maybe there was a way of keeping Thorpe's long experience for now. In all of this, it should not be forgotten what an exceptionally good player Thorpe is.
Australia are relentless. In 1997 we still led 1-0 after the Second Test at Lord's, but after that they pressed the throttle and although we won at The Oval to make the series result 3-2 it probably wasn't as close as that. They do everything to the nth degree.
England beat a decent South Africa side in the winter, no question. But there were times when we made things difficult for ourselves. In Durban, for instance, we were all out for 139 and came back so well that if it had not been for bad light on the final day we would have won the match. Against Australia, if you are all out for 139 there is no coming back. They tend to bury you.
Getting the totals is one thing, taking 20 wickets to win a Test is the other. On a flat pitch the other day at The Oval there was just a lack of incisiveness, and Adam Gilchrist - we can never forget him because his superlative performances alone will never let us - will bat at seven in the Tests. If Stephen Harmison and Andrew Flintoff are the key to getting among them - and new-ball wickets will be crucial - then the others all have a significant role to play.
The psychological warfare, at which Australia are past masters lest anyone think they are pussy cats, has started. Every time Glenn McGrath walks past Andrew Strauss, for instance, he sticks out his finger and moves it up and down as though he is notching another one.
If Strauss can get runs at Lord's that may stop. If McGrath was to get him, it might start a roll of the sort which McGrath had against Michael Atherton.
I wish I was part of it. The wrist injury which cost me my place in the winter (following the whiplash injury last summer which ended a run of 42 Tests) has at last cleared up. After eight months, I am ready to hold a bat again. It is the longest period that I have not held one since I was three. I hope to play as soon as possible. But it all means that I will be at Guildford watching Surrey on Thursday, not at Lord's playing for England. With due respect to Guildford, I know where I'd rather be.
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