The Ashes: Men separated from the boys
Sir Jack Hobbs and Wally Hammond were arguably two of England’s finest batsmen during their prime, and with that came a particular fondness for Australian tracks. The former, who made his international debut at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in 1908, went on to score 1,178 Test runs at the ground, the highest by any Englishman, while Hammond is the only player to have scored a double-century for England at the 100,000 seater stadium.
It is not often that an Englishman may walk away from Australia with his head held high after an Ashes tour, but these two were the bane of the Baggy Greens’ for many years. The tour of 1928-29 saw England seal the series in Melbourne, with thanks largely to Hammond’s prolific 200; but over the course of the five matches, the pair averaged 55 at the crease together to give a strong base for their triumph.
Recent Ashes tours Down Under however have belonged to the home side, their sheer ruthlessness with the bat combined with clinical and precise bowling have seen the last five touring sides leave the country with little more than a shred of confidence. Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Michael Slater, Steve Waugh and current skipper Ricky Ponting, all national legends in their own right, have taken pleasure in dispatching their rivals to the joy of the home crowd.
The MCG is where it all began back in 1877, five years prior to the establishment of the Ashes, England took on the Aussies in the first Test match in history. And where better to place a potential series clincher than at such a nostalgic ground where both teams have fought one another 53 times in Test matches, including the five prior to the creation of the urn in 1882.
The MCG has a long history about it, but the Boxing Day Test match has been the most illustrious part of it for all involved in recent years, especially in an Ashes series. It is an iconic day on the Aussie sporting calendar, and make no mistake about it, you will not be able to hear yourself think when the respective teams are led out for the national anthems.
Delicately poised at one-apiece, Andrew Strauss’s side are one win away from retaining the Ashes that they so crave. Currently going through the motions for the media frenzy that is swamping them, England must not become overwhelmed by the situation that will await them when they walk out to the fever-pitch crowd.
All England fans already know that Kevin Pietersen thrives on the big stage when the world’s eyes are on him and to silence all but the Barmy Army would not only do wonders for his confidence, but would almost certainly crank team morale to a new high. With Ian Bell almost certainly retaining his position at six, it is crucial for an out-of-sorts Paul Collingwood to hit the ground running.
The Durham batsmen has scored only 62 runs at an average of 15.5 and many will argue that he is only in the team for his athletic fielding abilities, I’m sure we all remember his spectacular one-handed catch to dismiss Ponting at the Waca last week. James Anderson looks to have shaken off a side strain to retain his place and Steve Finn, despite being given assurance by skipper Strauss, could be a doubt with the seam bowler appearing to be struggling with fatigue.
Anyway, the pitch is shaping up to have a clean green tinge to it that will provide early swing and some bounce. Don’t get me wrong, it will be nothing compared to the Waca and Brisbane when it comes to pace and bounce, but early wickets will be crucial before the pitch settles down in the afternoon to put the pressure on the fielding side.
Both sides know what is required of them and it is now time for all the talk to be put into action. Whether it is with willow or leather, it will be down to sheer confidence that careers will be made and lost when the players take to the hallowed turf of the MCG.Tagged in: Cricket, The Ashes
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