Imposter alert. A stag party from Toowoomba, purporting to be the Australian cricket team, are at large in the shires. They were last seen at Edgbaston yesterday, when they gave England an approximation of a game.
Their captain goes by the name of George Bailey, Google George to his friends. He's a nice enough sort, but, as he says, "I'm just in charge of hoping the coin lands the right way, really." He scored 55 in an admirably adhesive innings, but the legends of Benaud, Border and Bradman are safe, for the time being.
There's a vaguely familiar figure named Mitchell Johnson. His idea of convict chic is a hairstyle which appears to be modelled on that of an Appalachian swamp-dweller, and a human relationship strategy which seems to be based on that of a Glaswegian nightclub bouncer.
He kissed the badge on his baggy yellow jumper, which woke the chaps in the Hollies Stand from their early afternoon slumbers, and brought a pair of Mr Blobbys wobbling back from the bar. He then yapped at the umpires and exchanged pleasantries with Tim Bresnan. He did not give the impression he was suggesting names for the Yorkshire bowler's new-born.
The rest of his mates would blend in, at the bar where nobody knows your name. Mitch Marsh? Surely a buckaroo from Dingo, Central Queensland. Nathan Coulter-Nile? Got to be a junior solicitor from Brisbane. Clint McKay? Has to be a copper miner from Mount Isa. Xavier Doherty? A country curate from Rockhampton.
Rest assured they will return to semi-obscurity when things get serious, and the little urn becomes a big deal. The Champions Trophy is a decent diversion, with a limited shelf life, but it pales alongside the real thing. The gas burners, and drummers dressed as Grenadier Guards, merely emphasise its ephemeral nature.
Admittedly, certain traditions were observed on a day of high cloud and intermittent sunshine. The capacity crowd comfortably exceeded their collective allocation of alcoholic units. The tiresome exhibitionists of the Barmy Army consequently blended in with cross-dressing tennis players, assorted time lords, several sets of dwarfs and an infestation of Super Marios.
Despite the fancy-dress parade, and the shameless baiting of Johnson when he batted, it was hardly an Ashes-style bearpit, where the humour is barbed and the belligerence is a genuflection towards tradition. The onset of a Mexican wave at precisely 1.20 pm signalled boredom with England's regimented approach to the 50-over game.
England batted with the freedom of battery hens, and the complacency of a bureaucrat, counting down the days until the index-linked pension kicks in. They protected what conventional wisdom suggested was a marginal total with the diligence of jailers at a high-security prison.
The greater focus was on the Australians, on day one of what will be a 66-day war. Only three of yesterday's team, Shane Watson, David Warner and Phil Hughes, are likely to be in the side for the first Test, at Trent Bridge from 10 July. Two more, James Faulkner and Mitchell Starc, are in the Ashes squad.
Faulkner, the Tasmanian left-armer, made the more favourable impression yesterday. He changed his pace intelligently, and hung around at the crease, to score an unbeaten 54 as the death throes were observed. It was all a little insubstantial and unconvincing.
Say what you like about the mythology of the Baggy Green, it has an authenticity and dignity beyond the Baseball Yellow number which, aligned to some bewilderingly baggy short sleeved sweaters, made the Australians look like a collection of children's entertainers. Bailey's Ban-anas, perhaps. They certainly lack the taut body language and assertive habits of their forebears. Take away Johnson, who will fill the role of pantomime villain in the unlikely event of his receiving a late call up for the Ashes and they are just too nice.
We knew where we were when Ian Chappell played the role of cricket's Tony Soprano. We feared the worst when Steve Waugh's Untouchables swaggered into view. We didn't like the odds when Punter Ponting led his team to an Ashes whitewash in Australia in 2006-07.
Those Australian teams were ruthless, to a fault. They pressed their boots on an opponents' windpipe, and applied pressure until the inevitable expiration. Intriguingly, intensity became a crime in the eyes of a certain section of the Australian media when Ponting was unashamedly hard-nosed.
It is still tempting to cling to the hope Ponting may be the missing link in this Ashes summer. Whispers that Michael Clarke's back injury, sustained in India, may preclude his presence in the forthcoming Test series poses a question the Australian selectors may not care to answer. Who leads in his absence?
Clarke has responded phenomenally to the captaincy. Before he succumbed to immobility he was batting brilliantly. Concerns that his condition is chronic suggest the curse of professional sport, that a man's talent is worthless if he is betrayed by his body, may have struck again.
Ponting is a modern, peripatetic cricketer. Since making his tearful farewell from the Australian team, he has won the Sheffield Shield with Tasmania and the IPL with the Mumbai Indians. He has hitched a lift on Surrey's gravy train and will pick up more easy money in yet another 20-20 tournament in the Caribbean next month.
Bailey is a stop gap, so don't bother consulting your internet search engine. Brad Haddin, Clarke's vice captain, is next in line to take over. An Australian team without a credible leader? Bring it on.Reuse content