It may have escaped your attention, but the Australians are here. Apart from sending Andrew Symonds home in disgrace, losing a couple of World Twenty20 games against West Indies and Sri Lanka, and holding an unscheduled training camp in Leicester, they have not done much since arriving in England three weeks ago. But all that could be about to change.
Certainly, captain Ricky Ponting seemed bullish enough yesterday when he and the rest of the Ashes tour party met the media in Hove ahead of the first of their two warm-up games which lead into next month's first Test, in Cardiff. Then again, Ponting was pretty up-beat during a similar gig in Nottingham before the Twenty20 tournament – and we know what happened next.
There was a time, of course, when an Australian tour party needed no introductions. But the likes of Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist, Langer and Hayden have been replaced by Hauritz, Hilfenhaus, Haddin, Hughes and North – all fine players, no doubt, but not men with hundreds of Test wickets and thousands of runs behind them.
"It's pretty obvious," said Ponting when asked how his latest squad differs from the one he led to defeat here in 2005 and then guided to a 5-0 whitewash win on home soil 18 months later. "Five or six ultra experienced guys have gone and five or six reasonably inexperienced guys have come in. But I'm very happy and very excited about where our Test cricket is heading and there's a good chance for this group of players to really forge an identify for themselves and for the team through this tour."
The first opportunity comes tomorrow with the start of a four-day, 12-a-side match against Sussex. Then Australia will take on an England Lions side – including Steve Harmison and Ian Bell – in Worcester next week before heading to Cardiff. "We've got a couple of games and we want to get a lot out of them," said Ponting.
"We've got the right to use 12 players in the Sussex game but that doesn't mean we will be using it as practice. We'll be trying to get used to the conditions because we think this wicket will be most like the one in Cardiff, so there is an opportunity to get used to the pace and the bounce, and maybe a bit of spin."
Ah, spin. Ponting reckons England will go down the two-spinner route in Cardiff but seems unconcerned at the prospect of facing Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar or about having only Nathan Hauritz, rather than Shane Warne, to fight back with. "I think our record on the subcontinent will hold us in good stead," he said. "We are proud of the way we have been able to perform in all conditions around the world and we've had a chance over the last couple of weeks to start getting our head around what we believe will probably be a very dry wicket in Cardiff."
If Australia's tour had gone to plan from the outset, Ponting and Co would only just have finished playing Twenty20 cricket. Instead, they slunk away to Leicester after finishing bottom of their group. "We had the best practice facilities we could have hoped for," insisted Ponting, who had originally regarded an unscripted stay in the Midlands with what seemed like horror.Reuse content