Alec Swann - Crank up the hype, the Ashes is coming

Northamptonshire Telegraph's sports writers Jon Dunham, Jim Lyon and Alec Swann.
Northamptonshire Telegraph's sports writers Jon Dunham, Jim Lyon and Alec Swann.

It barely seems like yesterday that the Australians were trudging off at The Oval in near darkness, thankful that their 3-0 Ashes reverse wasn’t about to become a 4-0 hammering.

It also seems like five minutes ago that some members of the England side, no doubt half-cut and a touch giddy, decided to mark their trumping of the old enemy by relieving themselves on the pitch where they were enjoying a celebratory beer.

There’s no real reason to mention this fact but for its rehashing by Australian journalist Malcolm Conn in a piece to mark England’s arrival in Perth for this winter’s altercation.

‘Alastair Cook’s Urinators’ as the tourists have been so delightfully termed may appear slightly juvenile but Conn, who is well renowned as a pommie-baiter, has wittingly or otherwise fired off an opening salvo in the inevitable phoney war that will escalate in the build-up to the first Test in Brisbane next month.

Both sides may be a few weeks away from resuming battle, but that wont stop opinion being passed and advantage sought on behalf of both sets of players by their respective medias.

I’m not going to criticise that, after all it’s precisely I’m doing here, but some perspective wouldn’t go amiss.

Depending on whose thoughts you read, England are either marginal favourites to retain the famous urn or will wipe the floor with Michael Clarke’s men.

On the other side of the coin, Australia are a resurgent force who will give their opponents with a bloody nose or could potentially do well because of home conditions.

The truth probably falls somewhere in the middle of all that.

England are slight favourites if the bookmakers are to be believed, and so they should be, but it isn’t too much to believe that the hosts will fancy their chances.

There is some evidence to support the latter statement, certainly not in the form of results though, but I doubt even Clarke and coach Darren Lehmann know which Australian team is going to turn up at the Gabba.

The one who played some good stuff in Manchester and south London or the one that capitulated at Lord’s and sacrificed a very strong position in Durham?

A bowling attack fit and firing or one where the medical team dare not make themselves too comfortable?

A batting line-up that’s settled and in form or one that stands on the brink of yet another reshuffling and is incapable of constructing a commanding first innings total?

If everything falls into place then the Aussies are more than capable of giving England a run for their money but if not then I can only see one outcome.

Having said that, England aren’t the side they were the last time they ventured down under and while they will expect to come out on top, that optimism should be cautious and not deep-rooted.

There are question marks over some of the batters - Cook’s opening partner, the form of Jonathan Trott and the identity of the number six - and who should be the fourth member, alongside Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann, of the attack.

But until the Australian domestic four-day competition, the Sheffield Shield, starts in earnest and England’s warm-up outings begin it’s all a bit of star-gazing.

Conn, and a good few over this part of the world, will take all too readily to any chance of picking fault in the other side but that’s an accepted trait which will never change.

So all in all, a hefty pinch of salt needs to be taken with most of this, especially that which seeks to provoke rather than inform.