The good ship Flintoff sets sail for dreamland

If England are still standing in the World Cup final in April, it will be a feat of endurance. But the Ashes are the target - as they were 52 years ago

On 15 September 1954 the SS Orsova set sail from Tilbury for Fremantle. On board were the MCC touring party for that winter, comprising 17 players, a manager, a baggage man-cum-scorer, and, for the first time, a masseur. There was also a media contingent numbering 54. They were not to return until 7 April, 205 days later.

The dockside was packed with well-wishers. The public interest in the tour was immense. England, having been deprived of the Ashes for 18 years and 362 days, spanning six series, had at last regained them 13 months earlier. Under the official banner of MCC, as they then still were, they were embarking on the great campaign to retain them.

Last Friday, England once more set out on their winter's business. This expedition also has as its centrepiece the Ashes. In the sense that they were regained 13 months previously after another gap bordering on the unendurable (16 years and 42 days, covering eight series), that England go as holders following a dramatic home rubber, and that the unmistakeable whiff of fervour is in the air, the comparison is close.

This winter is indubitably tougher. By comparison the modern player is mollycoddled, though do not assume that those of half a century ago exactly roughed it. But the demands on tour now are permanent; more or less every match is a big match. That is why the rewards are greater.

Cricketers, however, are still identifiable with the people who support them. That will be shown in every hotel in which they stay in the next seven months. Fifty-two years ago, the crowds were at Tilbury docks; now some 20,000 supporters will follow England.

In 1954-55, the winter consisted of 28 matches: seven Tests, 14 other first-class fixtures of four or three days (six of them before the First Test against Australia), one of three days which was not first-class, four of two days and two lasting a day, though they were not one-dayers as we now know them.

They were played in three countries: in Ceylon, where the Orsova berthed en route; in Australia; and in New Zealand. After the boat journey, the squad travelled between venues via a hotch-potch of internal flights, trains and coaches. There were 19 journeys between the various cities and upcountry grounds where they played. Occasionally, some went by air, others by rail. On one occasion Denis Compton (it would have to have been Compo) fixed it for the allocated train passes to be swapped for flight tickets.

Things have changed a bit. This winter, England - the MCC handle was dropped in 1977 - will also play in three countries. First, in India, where the squad arrived yesterday, comes the Champions Trophy, the so-called mini World Cup. In Australia come the Ashes and the VB one-day series. Finally, in the West Indies comes the World Cup.

From beginning to end, that is from last Friday, 6 October, until the World Cup final in Barbados on 28 April, the winter's cricket sojourn again spans 205 days. None of the England party will be away either from home or their families for that time. If - and the word can rarely have been bigger - England were to reach the final of the Champions Trophy, nine of the players could be on tour from now until the end of the VB series on 14 February, when they would have at most a fortnight to spend at home before embarking for the Caribbean.

Between times there will be family visits. Some of the squad with children not yet of school age, probably including the captain, Andrew Flintoff, will choose to have their families with them for most of the time. Others will be joined by them over Christmas and the New Year in Australia. Given events on other foreign fields, no matter how hard it gets, or how much they are up against it (and they may very well be) nobody would be advised to complain too much.

In 1954-55, England eventually had 18 players at their disposal. To show that some things do not change, Compton joined them later after knee surgery. This winter, there will be 14 in the Champions Trophy, 16 in the Ashes squad, nine of whom are in both. At least four are still not fully clear of long-term injury. There will be an additional 14 based in Perth as cover, under the auspices of the National Academy. It was pushing it a bit to suggest that you would be an unlucky England professional not to get on a winter tour, but not by much.

The lone masseur from 52 years back, Harold "Woozer" Dalton, has also been complemented. The England management in Australia will number 14. That will be increased to 15 if they can find a chief medical officer. The timing of the departure of the present incumbent, announced last week, was not entirely helpful to their cause. There will be six coaching staff, an operations manager, a physiologist, a physiotherapist and a massage therapist (presumably the Woozer of his times).

There will also be three media- relations personnel travelling to Australia. And if 54 seemed a mighty lot of reporters 52 years ago (and it was), the Australian cricket authorities have received almost 700 applications for accreditation this time, some of them from people who write regularly about cricket. It will be, from beginning to end, in all three venues but especially in Australia, a circus.

England will fly everywhere, making a possible 25 journeys. At most they will play 39 matches (which assumes one-day form beyond their wildest dreams), at least 28 (which assumes one-day form of their worst nightmares). Crucially, there will be at least 17 international matches. There may be 28, and if they reach the Super Eight stage of the World Cup, as they certainly ought to, there will be 34.

It will be humanly impossible to perform at their peak every time. Nobody will say here comes another bloody match, but they may feel it. Heaven forfend that they take their eye off the ball against Canada on 18 March, a date not yet looming large in their collective mind.

If England could choose one trinket to win out of all that is being laid before them in the next seven months, the choice would not be hard. When Flintoff and his men left on Friday, they were leaving to play the Champions Trophy. But all they had in mind was the Ashes. Everything, simply everything, including a huge amount of medical attention, is directed towards that. The reasons were there for all to see in Trafalgar Square on 13 September last year.

It matters. It mattered 52 years ago as well. Perhaps more to some. As the Orsova was about to depart, a spare man in a pin-stripe suit was seen talking to one of England's youngest players, Colin Cowdrey. Douglas Jardine, captain of the 1932-33 Bodyline team, was overheard saying: "When you get to Ceylon, Cowdrey, have a hit and get your eye in. Then when you get to Australia, just remember one thing. Hate the bastards."

England's Diary: From Jaipur to Barbados, via all points Australia

ICC Champions Trophy

15 Oct: India, Jaipur. 21 Oct: Australia, Jaipur. 28 Oct: Qualifier 2, Ahmedabad. 1-2 Nov: Semi-finals. 5 Nov: Final, Mumbai.

Tour to Australia

10 Nov: PM'sXI, Canberra. 12-14 Nov: New South Wales, Sydney. 17-19 Nov: South Australia, Adelaide. 23-27 Nov: FIRST TEST, Brisbane. 1-5 Dec: SECOND TEST, Adelaide. 9-10 Dec: Western Australia, Perth. 14-18 Dec: THIRD TEST, Perth. 26-30 Dec: FOURTH TEST, Melbourne. 2-6 Jan: FIFTH TEST, Sydney. 9 Jan: Twenty20 international, Sydney. 12 Jan: 1st one-day international, Melbourne. 16 Jan: 2nd ODI, Hobart. 19 Jan: 3rd ODI, Brisbane. 23 Jan: 4th ODI, Adelaide. 26 Jan: 5th ODI, Adelaide. 30 Jan: 6th ODI, Perth. 2 Feb: 7th ODI, Sydney. 6 Feb: 8th ODI, Brisbane. 9 Feb: 1st final, Melbourne. 11 Feb: 2nd final, Sydney. 13 Feb: 3rd final, Adelaide.

World Cup 2007

16 Mar: New Zealand. 18 Mar: Canada. 24 Mar: Kenya (all in St Lucia). 27 Mar-21 April: Super Eights. 24-25 April: Semi-finals. 28 April: Final, Barbados.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born