English cricket is often accused of focusing on the Ashes in preference to more immediate or pressing concerns and Joe Root didn’t do much to quash that sense when he referred to it today as the “pinnacle” of an extraordinarily busy year for his men.
But it would be wrong to think that this is a failing on only one side of the Ashes divide.
Only last week, as seasoned a campaigner in Australia-England matches as Steve Waugh was talking of the latest instalment of the series, even though it is still nearly seven months before the first ball is bowled and there is still a World Test Championship final and a world T20 tournament in the meantime. For England, as well, there is the small matter of a revenge mission against India to squeeze in as well.
Waugh was a guest on Road to the Ashes – a podcast on the Australian network Fox, which had started its build-up the week before – in April, no less – suggesting perhaps that there is a greater preoccupation in the home camp as, after their humbling by what some may consider the Indian 2nd XI last summer, they missed out on the WTC showpiece on English soil.
Waugh didn’t surprise too many people in identifying the man Australia fear most, the team having been shaken up – or knocked down in Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne’s case – by him in their first encounter in 2019.
But the man who captained Australia in home and away Ashes series during his 57-Test tenure may have intrigued a few observers by going as far as to compare that man to one of the greatest and most feared Test pacemen.
“The key player for me,” he said, “is Jofra Archer. The first time I saw him I thought he looked very similar to Curtly Ambrose in that he has the ability to lift an extra gear and he can make things happen quickly. He really is a trump card for England’s chances in Australia.
“He’s something different and will enjoy the pace and bounce of Australian wickets.”
Archer would love to come across a surface quite as springy as the one that that the 6ft 7ins West Indian enjoyed at the Waca in 1993 when he ran through the Australians with a spell of seven wickets for one run in 32 balls. In the era of drop-in pitches and, of course, a new stadium in Perth, that is probably unlikely, however.
Waugh went on to talk about something that might have a greater bearing on the series outcome: the relative weakness of both teams’ batting orders. “Both have been a bit brittle over the last six to 12 months,” he said “and England, like Australia, need to get 600 runs on the board across both innings and then both teams are capable of bowling the opposition out twice.
“So it’s really up to the batters to lay the platform.”