The Ashes: England will crack under pressure, warns Australia coach
Mickey Arthur kicks off Ashes hostilities and claims his side have world's best bowlers
England doubtless presumed that they could look forward to the Champions Trophy final in peace. How foolish and misguided that notion was. Another little matter of business to which they must shortly attend intruded.
Mickey Arthur, the coach of Australia, took the opportunity to tell them that his side had the best bowling attack in the world and would win the Ashes and that England could crack up at any time. Since Arthur was hardly likely to suggest that his team were about to roll over to have their tummies tickled it was perhaps to be expected.
But his claims even by the standards of phony wars that always dominate the weeks before the greatest series on earth seemed a trifle excessive. They virtually ignored the fact that Australia appear out of form and in disarray.
"I honestly believe we can win the Ashes – we have the best all-round bowling attack in world cricket," he said in an interview on BBC Radio 5 Live. "I'm talking depth wise, if we pick up an injury we have got somebody who can rock up and be just as effective. I think that's a massive boost for us.
"If we play for each other and the badge, it will be extremely powerful. If our batsmen get enough runs, we have a really good chance in this Ashes series because I'm confident we will get 20 wickets."
Arthur added that it may even be England who crumble under the strain. "When South Africa put them under pressure last year for extended periods of time we saw a couple of cracks develop," he said. "I would like to see how they handle pressure for a sustained period of time."
Australia's five seamers in their Ashes squad, led by Peter Siddle, have 257 Test wickets between them, England's likely pace trio, with Jimmy Anderson to the fore, have 590 wickets. Australia's spinner, Nathan Lyon, has 76 wickets, England's Graeme Swann has 222.
Arthur is a congenial old hand at playing the psychological game before and during competition. When he was coach of his native South Africa, he was not slow to point out England's deficiencies on their last tour of the country.
He might have bemused the England and Wales Cricket Board, however, in his reflections on the incident in a late night bar when the Australia batsman, David Warner, punched the England batsman, Joe Root. Warner has been suspended until the start of the Ashes but according to Arthur's interpretation it appeared not to be entirely his player's own doing.
"That's part and parcel of touring England," Arthur said, speaking to Jim Maxwell, the Australian journalist and commentator. "You have to be very street smart and on your game. If you're not, the media and the ECB will have a field day with you.
"We have to be smarter and make sure we make the right decisions. Unfortunately some guys are learning the hard way but you hope they will get better for it."
All this was exceedingly bullish from a coach under serious scrutiny after the travails that have befallen his team. They failed to win any of their three matches in the Champions Trophy and the news on their injured captain is still pessimistic.
Michael Clarke batted in the nets and is intending to play in the warm-up match against Somerset next week. But he said: "My back is feeling better at the moment. A decision will probably be made on the morning of the game."
England could have been forgiven for thinking that they have other matters to ponder before turning their full attention to Arthur's remarks. It is not every day that a team reaches the last tie of an ICC tournament and in England's case it has happened only four times spanning 16 tournaments. Four times England have reached a final – three World Cups and one Champions Trophy which was their most recent nine years ago – and four times they have been defeated.
Thus, it is possible that the Champions Trophy final on Sunday, in which they will play a rampant India, is dominating their thoughts. England should have nothing to fear after their overwhelming semi-final upbraiding of South Africa but India are alone in having won every match in the tournament.
The last and only time that England reached the final of the Champions Trophy was also at home in 2004. Their wicketkeeper, Jos Buttler, had just turned 14 at the time, and he remembers watching Marcus Trescothick, who was to become his team-mate at Somerset, make a hundred in a losing cause.
"I was in the youth set-up at Somerset," Buttler said. "It's great to think I'm going to be a part of it and I'm really excited about it. If we perform as well as we did against South Africa, and as well as we can do, then we've got a great chance."
Buttler, only 13 matches into his one-day international career, is still coming to terms with his dual role as wicketkeeper and late-order blazer. But his record-equalling six catches on Wednesday at The Oval demonstrated an alertness and handling ability that should help to make him feel more comfortable.
England have had plenty of distractions in the last few days of which Arthur's intervention was merely the latest. Buttler said they were unaffected.
"The distractions haven't been that major because we're pretty good at keeping it outside the changing room and outside the games and focusing on what we've got to do to win matches. It's a really good group. There is a lot of belief in the squad and it is very well led."
Arthur would no doubt say the same of Australia.
Fifth time lucky? England's ODI finals
England will attempt to reverse the tide of history when they compete in their fifth final on Sunday, having lost three World Cup finals and one Champions Trophy showdown.
1979 World Cup final (lost to West Indies)
Held at Lord's in the 60-over format, England were well set at 183 for 2, before a loss of eight wickets for 11 runs saw them lose by 92 runs.
1987 World Cup final (lost to Australia)
David Boon hit 75 to help Australia post 253 for 5 in Calcutta, which England fell just short of, despite 58 from Bill Athey. They lost by seven runs.
1992 World Cup final (lost to Pakistan)
Again chasing, England were set 250 in Melbourne. Neil Fairbrother's 62 helped them recover from 69 for 4 but they still lost by 22 runs.
2004 Champions Trophy final (lost to West Indies)
Marcus Trescothick's ton failed to inspire England to more than 217 at The Oval, as a ninth-wicket stand of 71 gave the Windies a two-wicket win.
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