Sydney: Constant criticism leading up to the Ashes may actually work in Australia’s favour, galvanising an under-pressure team against a more settled England side, former Australian opener Matthew Hayden believes.
Squirming at the fifth place in the test rankings, Australia are a pale shadow of the dominant force they were during Hayden’s heyday.
The retirements of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist and Hayden have left a void that has proved too big to fill and the transition has proved far from smooth.
The recent 2-0 away defeat by India has not done any good to their confidence either, and some individual bad patches have prompted the media to virtually write them off for the Ashes, which start on Thursday at the Gabba.
Hayden, however, has found something positive in the disarray.
“You boys (media) have been hard on them and they will be feeling that no question,” Hayden told reporters in Brisbane on Sunday.
“But beware the wounded cricketer. You can’t hide at the Gabba. And Australia will be keen. They would have reformulated together as a unit, the speculation will be aside and it will be play on.”
Players such as Mike Hussey have struggled for runs and the slow bowling department, where rookie left-armer Xavier Doherty was preferred to Nathan Hauritz, does not look particularly ominous.
Hayden, however, was not perturbed.
“We burn when we don’t win. In our era it was almost ‘oh they’ve won again’ sort of attitude. Now it’s like we haven’t got the Ashes and we want to go and get them -- that comes through immense pride and national spirit.”
The veteran of 103 tests was also relieved to see former team mate Hussey wriggle out of a prolonged bad patch with a gritty century in Western Australia’s Sheffield Shield triumph over Victoria.
“I think it has been really good to see this week someone like Mike Hussey being under immense pressure and to bat for his career. And you know what, he came through with the goods,” he added.
“He got a good hundred under pressure. And that is going to stand him in terrific stead come the first day of the Gabba Test match.
“That’s the edge we have over England who have had a bit of a sleepier start to their tour.”
Sharing his optimism, middle order batsman Marcus North said both Hussey and paceman Mitchell Johnson, who grabbed a five-wicket haul and hit a century in the Sheffield Shield match, would be “cherry-ripe” for the first test.
“Mitch getting a hundred and five-for and really finding some good rhythm is fantastic,” North told the Cricket Australia website.
“He’s going to be cherry-ripe for next week and obviously ‘Huss’ getting some time in the middle is fantastic as well ... It’s just a bonus that these guys have performed well in this game leading into next week.”
The left-hander conceded England, who won two of their three warm-up matches and drew the other, had a perfect build-up.
“I guess they’ll be happy with where they’re at. But we’ve had some good preparation as players getting an opportunity to play some first-class cricket around the country.
“The guys have faced the red ball, used the red ball and going up to Brisbane this week we’ve got three and-a-half good days of really solid preparation and once that contest starts everything before it is irrelevant.”