The gloves finally come off following Fletcher's barbed Ashes appraisal

Reaction to former England coach's view of the 'weakest Baggy Green side for 30 years' reveals frayed nerves Down Under

What has been missing so far from the Ashes prologue has been a row, a good old-fashioned bit of bear-baiting. The phoney war has been fought as if it were a powder-puff convention.

England have been prominent in adopting the role of "after you Claude" whenever they have been invited to become a combatant in the cut and thrust with which this period has been traditionally invested – doubtless for fear of reprisal. Australia too have been playing goody two shoes, or at least they did until yesterday when the carefully orchestrated vow of silence was blown apart.

It was provoked by a ghost from the tourists' past and it exposed the truth that Australia are afraid, very afraid. It was also wonderful sport. In his newspaper column last week, Duncan Fletcher, England's former coach, said that Australian cricket was in a dark place and had not been in such a muddled state for 30 years when at least they had some talented players.

There might have been a grain of wisdom there but it was par-for-the-course stuff, sounding much as if Fletcher, never one to admit weakness or fault, was merely making excuses for the 9-1 hammerings his England sides suffered in Ashes matches in Australia. His lot had to play great sides, this England were facing a bunch of no-hopers, not his fault.

But what an effect it produced. Tim Nielsen, the Australia coach, reacted with incandescent rage. "You can quote me on this, we could not care less what Duncan Fletcher thinks about anything or anyone," he said. "His opinion on most things in Test cricket is irrelevant. To be honest, Duncan Fletcher does not know the first thing about playing Test cricket in Australia."

It is a fact universally acknowledged in the cod psychologists' manual that if someone goes out of his way to say that he does not care what somebody else has said about them, he cares a great deal. Fletcher, who would have reacted with characteristic taciturnity to such comments in his time with England – as he did to so many things – has inadvertently done his successors a small favour.

Nielsen might simply have said that it was up to Fletcher what he thought, quoted his abysmal record and continued to prepare his charges, whose chances of regaining the Ashes are being seriously downplayed by the Aussie public as a result of the team's struggles. Instead Nielsen, normally a reserved chap who often laughs about being born in London, was drawn into verbal conflict. "Fletcher can have his opinion, so we can have ours," he said. "He's not fit to lick Ricky Ponting's bootstraps."

Australia's selectors have taken a huge gamble by picking debutant left-arm spinner Xavier Doherty in a 13-man squad for the first Test at the Gabba on Thursday. Unless the weather turns distinctly soggy he is likely to play. The selection, which meant dropping the incumbent Nathan Hauritz, has caused a minor sensation (in the absence of anything truly sensational).

England, by contrast, continue to dwell in a happy, conciliatory place. They secured their second win from three matches of the tour on Saturday when they beat a disappointing Australia A by 10 wickets in Hobart. If Australia A really are the second-best team in the country, which is what it says on the packet, Fletcher might have had a point about the darkness of the place.

The second-string bowling attack did the trick for England, with Tim Bresnan, Chris Tremlett and Monty Panesar all taking a clutch of wickets. The first-string has been in Brisbane for the past four days acclimatising itself (the difference between Queensland and Tasmania is vast).

The main talking point among players and followers has been the water sprinkler dances instigated by who knows, but filmed by Graeme Swann in his video diary. It shows, as Swann said, the relaxed mood of the England squad.

"A few years ago I'd have had my head knocked off if I'd asked a few of the players to do that," he said. Not least by Duncan Fletcher.

Swann alluded to the former coach in a way when asked if he had sympathy for his fellow off spinner Hauritz since slow bowlers were often treated badly. "I do feel sympathy for him, some of us get left out for eight years," he said.

But Swann is taking this seriously. Like everybody else, all he wants is for the action to start. "This is the worst three or four days for me now because it's so close you can almost smell it," he said. "I just can't wait for Thursday, it's going to be amazing, I have been waiting for this for 20 years to play in the Ashes in Australia." And so say all of us.

Countdown to the Ashes

3 The number of double-hundreds scored by England batsman Wally Hammond in Ashes Test matches in Australia. He hit 251 in Sydney and an unbeaten 231 in Melbourne on the 1928-29 tour before making 200 in Melbourne in 1936.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Sport
football
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power