Stuart Broad: The more abuse I get, the better I play... I love it in Australia
England Twenty20 captain unconcerned by Lehmann's comments as players apologise for Oval incident
England apologised for their version of Watergate today. It is now difficult to tell which of the sides involved in this summer's Ashes series occupy the moral high ground.
The latest incident has probably pushed the home team to the periphery. Some members of the triumphant squad urinated on The Kia Oval pitch during their post-match celebrations late on Sunday, which prompted such outrage that a formal statement of contrition was issued.
While this was probably as much to try to prevent further embarrassing questions as regretting the high jinks, it exposed both the continuing ability of England and Australia to misbehave and the growing division between them. The attempt by England to draw a line in the sand, as it were, barely deflected the annoyance in both countries at the latest peccadillo.
Stuart Broad, the England Twenty20 captain and perhaps the most controversial player in the side, declined to answer any questions about the toilet habits lately demonstrated by him and his colleagues when he rolled up at a press briefing to discuss the start of the limited-overs matches at the Ageas Bowl, Southampton, today. But he reflected on the additional security that England will now have on their tour of Australia this winter, when the Ashes will again be at stake.
"I'll feel like a rock star with some big heavies behind me," said Broad. "I'm not concerned at all, that's up to the ECB [England and Wales Cricket Board] to do. I've toured Australia a couple of times, I love it there, it's a fantastic place to go, great restaurants, good bars et cetera to really enjoy yourself. I see it as being no different with maybe a few more big heavies behind me."
Broad has become the bête noire of the piece since his failure to walk for a catch at slip in the first Test at Trent Bridge. His brilliant bowling spell at Durham, which effectively won England the fourth Test and ensured their series victory, merely annoyed Australians further.
Darren Lehmann, their coach, was fined for calling Broad a flagrant cheat and asking Australian crowds to let him know of their presence this winter. Broad seems resolutely unconcerned.
"It certainly won't be a shock to me," he said. "Pretty much everywhere you go in the world you get a few words on the boundary. That's why we shove Trotty down there. It's part and parcel of the game.
"Certainly, through this series, the more abuse I've got, the better I've performed. I don't know if that is something inside me. I'm quite a steely character, quite a fiery character, I like to have a bit on the game. That's why I think playing against Australia brings out the best of me."
The England players issued their statement early today, a few hours before Broad had been expected to defend his corner. Presumably, everyone will be under orders to observe the proprieties during the limited-overs matches which are coming up against Australia, starting today with the first of two Twenty20s, which are followed by five one-day internationals from next week.
Their apology at least was to the point. It said: "The England cricket team would like to state that during our celebrations after winning the Ashes at no time was there any intention to disrespect Surrey CCC, The Oval or anyone else involved in the game we love.
"As a team we pride ourselves on respecting all things cricket, including the opposition and the grounds we play at. We got carried away amongst the euphoria of winning such a prestigious series and accept that some of our behaviour was inappropriate. If that has caused any offence to anyone we apologise for that and want to reassure people that it was a simple error of judgement more than anything else."
That should be that, but the scrutiny will only become more intense. Australia began this summer of indecorum when their opening batsman, David Warner, punched his England counterpart Joe Root in a late-night Birmingham bar. Whether that was the cause, there has been simmering tension between the teams throughout the season.
England, playing it hard on the field, got into the act off it when their left-arm spinner Monty Panesar urinated on a bouncer in a Brighton club. Watergate at The Oval put the cap on it.
It will be hard to concentrate on the cricket today, though the fact that the cast has changed so much may help matters. Both countries have several additions to the squad with T20 specialists coming in. Both the Ageas Bowl and Durham are expected to be full, with women's matches starting proceedings. There may seem to be too much cricket but the public is not yet sated.
First T20: Ageas Bowl details
England A D Hales, M A Carberry, L J Wright, E J G Morgan, J E Root, R S Bopara, J C Buttler (wk), S C J Broad (capt), S T Finn, J C Tredwell, W B Rankin.
Australia D A Warner, S R Watson, S E Marsh, G J Bailey (capt), A C Voges, G J Maxwell, M S Wade (wk), J P Faulkner, M G Johnson, M A Starc, C J McKay.
Umpires Tim Robinson and Rob Bailey (Eng).
Pitch report Likely to be a belter. It could be a batsman's dream and a bowler's nightmare, to the delight of the crowd. Boundaries galore on dry surface.
Weather Mostly sunny. Max temp: 20C.
Odds Eng 4-5 Aus Evens.
TV Sky Sports Ashes, 18.00-22.00.
Women's Ashes: Edwards can spread the joy
England's women can ensure a double Ashes celebration if they win tomorrow's second Twenty20 at the Ageas Bowl, or Saturday's final T20 match at Chester-le-Street. But if Australia win both remaining games they will retain the Ashes that they won in a one-off Test in Sydney in 2011.
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