London: England’s cricketers fly out to Australia on Friday to defend the Ashes in a far more confrontational mood than four years ago.
When England’s players headed to Australia as holders in 2006, they were shocked that the home team - determined to regain the urn - refused to engage in casual conversation at the Gabba ahead of the first Test.
The tone was set for the worst Ashes defence ever as England lost the first Test by 227 runs on the way to an embarrassing 5-0 reverse.
“I’m not sure about not being able to say hello to them, but until the end of that fifth Test there’s two sides at war with each other,” England captain Andrew Strauss said. “Both sides know that at the end of the series there’s going to be 11 guys feted as heroes and 11 guys who failed in their task.
“Until that final Test is over there’s no point being too hunky-dory or friendly with the opposition. Our task is to go out there and try to beat them.”
England Cricket managing director Hugh Morris was more circumspect in his language, but acknowledged the scale of the task facing the team.
“It’s going to be a big challenge,” Morris said. “Any sporting team going out to Australia will tell you what a challenge it will be. Our contests go back to 1877 and every time we play Australia, it’s very, very competitive.
“It’s not war, but it’s very, very competitive cricket.” Still, England has won eight of its 10 Tests since the last Ashes and won the World Twenty20 along the way, so confidence should be no problem.
“The only time that 5-0 loss will be wiped out of the record books is if we go out there and win this time, so that’s our challenge,” Strauss said. “Those of us who were on that tour last time realise what a tough place it is to tour.”
The 33-year-old Strauss, who led England to a surprise 2-1 victory in the Ashes last year, is prepared for the taunts that are likely to come his way.
Images of his Australia counterpart Ricky Ponting and vice-captain Michael Clarke were projected onto the Houses of Parliament this week along with a message to “pack the urn” for it to be returned, and Strauss is prepared to be barracked.
“You’ve got to roll with it to a certain extent,” Strauss said. “I remember Ricky Ponting was a bit of a pantomime villain over here most of last summer and that may be the same for me over there.”
With England expecting a confrontational series, Strauss mulled whether he wanted to end the series remembered as a sporting captain or a competitive one, like Douglas Jardine - leader during the 1930s Bodyline series that threatened to spill over into a diplomatic incident.
“You’re only remembered if you’re a winner, put it that way,” Strauss said. “That’s what we’re out there to do.”