On Tuesday afternoon Andrew Strauss was doing his best to maintain his game-face as he sat before the press following England’s semi-religious experience in the city of churches. Then, at last, he cracked.
All tour, England have adhered to a despairingly rigid policy of no-comment as far as the opposition is concerned. Good to see Australia making changes, Andrew? Happy the local press is hammering the home team for once? Surprised by the growth on Peter Siddle’s shoulders of a second head?
Yet no matter the juiciness or otherwise of the bait tossed their way, the answer has always been the same: we’re concentrating on our own game, thanks very much. Australia can worry about the Australians.
But when Strauss was asked about the potential return to Test cricket of Phil Hughes, the mask slipped. “We’ve got our plans in place for him,” said the England captain, a hint of steel discernible. “We’ve played against him a few times before and he’s worked a bit on his technique. But I think there are weaknesses there we can exploit, definitely.”
It seemed like a telling moment. Because if England have bent over backwards a) not to appear complacent, and b) not to allow the Australian media the pleasure of accusing them of complacency, then Strauss felt emboldened at last to speak with a little of the disdain that once characterised the Ashes-related utterances of Steve Waugh.
You might think that any captain who has just presided over England’s biggest Ashes win down under since 1965-66 has earned the right to shout something approximating to the odds. But the lugubrious nature of England’s media appearances until that moment – Graeme Swann’s sit-down routine always excepted – made Strauss’s brief whiff of derision sound like a rush of blood.
England have learned from bitter experience after it all went wrong following the 2005 Ashes win. Even Kevin Pietersen has admitted England were deluding themselves in 2006-07. They are damned if they are going to have their words thrown back at them now.
And yet Strauss’s critique of Hughes told you something about the state of mind of this team. If the second innings at Brisbane hinted at it, then all five days at Adelaide confirmed it: the worst full-strength Australia side in living memory are there for the taking. And sooner or later, as it did after Adelaide, that realisation is going to slip out.
Mind you, if Hughes scores a century at Perth, don’t say you weren’t warned.
Lawrence Booth writes on cricket for the Daily Mail and you can sign up here for his weekly newsletter ‘the Top Spin’, which was named Online Column of the Year at the 2010 Sports Journalists’ Association awards
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