THERE is nothing like the promise of an Ashes series for extracting a catalogue of Lindwall and Miller, Statham and Trueman reminiscences from old men at the bar. As the majority of the Australian tour party this summer are Sixties children, it is a fair bet that the names of such legendary protagonists mean little to them.
Despite the fact that England and Australia first met in 1876, there is no time like the present, and no room for nostalgia in the hard-nosed environment of the modern Test arena. Though this Australian campaign started at one cute venue, Radlett Cricket Club, and moves to another, Arundel, today, their players are anything but cute.
But then what would you expect from a country with a reputation for male machismo that is in the grip of a no-nonsense republican leader. Success of national sporting teams is one benchmark of political strength in Australia, so it is no surprise that the government has invested about Adollars 1.5m in the Institute of Sport based in Adelaide. There young cricketers are knocked into shape via the harsh methods of former Test players like Terry Jenner and Rod Marsh, who advocate contempt for the opposition during the hours of play. Several of the current party are recent products.
They are abrasive on the field, staring at you menacingly down the pitch as if to say, 'You've got a bit of a nerve hanging around out here, cobber'. They are utterly committed when they bat, desperate to assert authority, afraid to betray any inferiority complex. They are not better cricketers than ours but, bearing in mind the failures of the England A team Down Under this winter, they rarely fail to maximise their ability. It is a question of attitude.
There is no doubt that some of the tourists - Damien Martyn, Matthew Hayden and Brendon Julian - unknown to us now, will be familiar names by September. There is no doubt that the four senior selectors (the captain is only peripherally involved) have chosen a group of doughty and pro=ven competitors augmented by half a dozen talented aspirants.
But they have made one crucial mistake. They have omitted Dean Jones. Like David Gower in England, no Test side can afford to do without a player of his expertise and approach. Jones is perfectly suited to English conditions, brilliantly versatile and a great motivator. Both on the previous tour here and for Durham last summer he averaged over 70. He took two hundreds off the Pakistanis. What's more, he painstakingly compiled a dossier on all England's premier players as he skirmished with them around the country. That itself would have been invaluable, especially bearing in mind the lack of first-class experience in England of the rest of the party.
Jones is second to none in his assessment of cricketers. 'The three young batters I rate very highly,' he said last week without a hint of sour grapes. 'Hayden's a left-handed opener of immense power and talent - he stands up and delivers, a bit like a mirror image of Tom Moody, and hooks as well. Damien Martyn has played five Tests against the West Indies already; he's a bit of a dasher, too, and has had some experience of English surfaces last year with Gateshead Fell. Michael Slater has made 1,000 runs the past two seasons for New South Wales (a fair achievement considering a player may get only 20 innings in the Sheffield Shield). He's courageous, takes on the quicks, and a great fielder. A similar sort of cricketer to me, I suppose.' (Jones is supremely self-confident even on a telephone line at a range of 12,000 miles.)
So with Border, Boon, Taylor and the Waugh twins as the nucleus, the batting looks in good hands. But recent Ashes series in England have been decided by the seam bowlers - Lillee and Willis, Botham and Lawson, Alderman and Dilley - and Australia's current offering represents the chink of light the English batsmen need. Craig McDermott lost some of his incisiveness last winter because of a groin problem which is still lingering and Merv Hughes has just had a knee operation which may reduce him to mere huff and bluster.
This might overexpose the younger bowlers, of whom Wayne Holdsworth is the fastest but who relies on the zip of Australian pitches, and the spritely, left- armer Brendon Julian ('a poor man's Wasim Akram,' acccording to Jones) the most versatile. Nevertheless, much of the onus could fall on the stock bowling all- rounder Paul Reiffel, predictably nicknamed 'Pistol'. Reiffel is a willing workhorse and wobbles the ball both ways in the manner Tony Dodemaide did for Sussex, but he may be too bland to be a threat on English Test wickets.
The cricket will be anything but bland, of course. Australian batsmen (with the exception of Bill Lawry) have always been worth the admission money, and if the pace quintet get carried away trying to demolish English helmets, Border can always turn to the leg- spin of the peroxide-headed, ear- ringed Shane Warne. Mindful of England's capitulation to Anil Kumble in the winter, let's hope the Aussies keep the seamers on.
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