Will Andrew Strauss emulate Nasser Hussain in 2002 and choose to bowl under a cloudless sky? Will the first ball delivered by an Englishman head straight for second slip as in 2006 or be cracked with the same unerring authority as Michael Slater despatched a Phil DeFreitas long hop in 1994?
On all three occasions we wondered what all the fuss was about. How did we come to kid ourselves that England might prevail in the unforgiving arenas of Australia? Will they prevail this time? Don’t ask me. We commentators can pretend great wisdom but we don’t know what is going to happen.
Instead, here is what I can guarantee won’t happen before the Ashes clashes finally get under way. On the eve of the Brisbane Test, Glenn McGrath is asked on national TV how the series will unfold. “Upon due reflection”, he says, “I have amended my prediction slightly. Now I think it will be 5-0 to England”.
He goes on to deny that he has been asked by the Australian management to consider a comeback. Later in the same programme Shane Warne opines: “The only way I can see Australia getting their act together is if they invite John Buchanan back on to the coaching staff. The players need to get back to studying their Sun Tzu as quickly as possible”.
Warne goes on to deny that he has been asked by the Australian management to consider a comeback. Ian Chappell, meanwhile, suggests that the team are spending too much time in the bar and not enough in the gym or in the psychiatrist’s chair. He goes on to deny”
In ‘The Australian’ newspaper, veteran cricket correspondent Malcolm Conn praises the multi-cultural nature of the England team. “A product of an enlightened modern society, the sort of which Australia can only aspire to”, he writes. He also delivers a glowing profile of Kevin Pietersen and anticipates a close series, pausing only to hope that “cricket is the winner”.
Meanwhile, Stuart Broad turns up to England’s final training session before the Gabba Test reeking of alcohol and slurring to anyone prepared to listen: “Well, if it was OK for Harold Larwood and Freddie Flintoff, it must be OK for me”.
Messrs Strauss and Flower see the funny side and send him off to the nets with a hearty slap on the back, while Ian Botham on Sky Sports declares that it is a disgrace that anyone should even consider imbibing alcohol within a week of such an important Test match.
John Howard, the former Aussie Prime Minister, brands Nathan Hauritz “a chucker”. At a press conference before the game a grim-faced Graeme Swann says: “No comment”. Kevin Pietersen then announces that he is so delighted with the moustache that he has grown for charity that he intends to keep it for the rest of the tour.
Finally, the day arrives and there is Mark Nicholas hosting Channel 9′s coverage. Dishevelled and unshaven, he looks away from the camera shyly and announces that a cricket match is about to take place in Brisbane. “It doesn’t matter much”, he says. “Two ordinary, monochrome teams having a little game. I think there is a very interesting cookery programme on the other side.”
Then, thankfully, someone propels the ball down the Gabba pitch; someone else tries to hit it. And some sort of reality can return.