Pain of past failures keeps rivals on edge

Australia have only one cricketer who has played in a winning Ashes series. England have only two who haven’t.

Australia will be driven by the pain of multiple defeats, while England will depend on the veterans of 2006-07, who encountered a gang of great Australian players intent on revenge, to banish any complacent thoughts.

The last team to lose the Ashes after a run of victories, Ricky Ponting’s 2005 Australians, did not contain a single player who had experienced a losing Ashes series. Nor is it healthy, as England found out in the 16 years leading up to that epic series, for a dressing room to contain too many players who have known only defeat.

”I guess when I first started, it was a strange environment to be in because we kind of knew they were better than us, and we didn’t really expect to win,” said Jimmy Anderson, who was an erratic young paceman on the 2006-07 tour, when England was wiped 5-0, but had made his debut three years earlier. ”So the mindset was all wrong to start with. Over the years, things have changed.”

Things have changed so much that England have only four players who know how it feels to lose the Ashes: Anderson, captain Alastair Cook, Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen. Pietersen even then was at his most phenomenal when the world was against him, but the others all ended up stronger for the experience, and returned as much more complete players to dominate Australia. Now even Glenn McGrath, the old stager who made a sport of predicting 5-0 triumphs, is claiming underdog status. That should be enough to warn England, so full of optimism, not to slip up.

”There’s real excitement about what’s to come, but being favourites brings certain pressures,” Anderson cautioned in England’s Sunday newspapers.

”You can be the stronger team on paper but once you’re on the field it’s different. A lot of the Aussies haven’t played in the Ashes before and somebody like Chris Rogers is coming in at the age of 35 with nothing to lose. That’s dangerous. If we don’t play well there’s a good chance we’ll lose.”

Rogers, a shrewd, experienced cricketer unscathed by Ashes defeats, was awakened to the Ashes by Allan Border’s 1989 Australians, who provide the template for this, the most unfancied Australian team to tour England since. The 4-0 triumph in ’89 was driven not just by the pain of years of defeat, but by the careful selection of a core group of talented, if unfashionable and unproven players, including Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh. There was also the small matter of England, hit by a rebel tour and injuries, being a shambles, and using 29 players in the series.

”I was 12 when the ’89 series happened so it was an influential period of my cricketing life,” recalled Rogers. ”I remember those days, then the dominance we had for so long. Even the things I read, the pinnacle was to play an Ashes in England for Australia and so to be a part of it is hugely special.”

Rogers is one of nine Australians on the tour with no Ashes experience. Michael Clarke is the only one with pleasant Ashes memories, having rekindled his career and farewelled his great mate Shane Warne, among other legends, in 2006-07. He is also one of three in the squad to have lived through multiple defeats against England, along with Peter Siddle and Brad Haddin.

Haddin, a spare wheel on the 2005 tour as the reserve wicketkeeper, has been involved in no fewer than three series losses. Now he has been brought back as vice-captain, his leadership as much of a virtue as his experience in English conditions. He can tell the young players on the tour about the quirks of the pitches and overhead conditions, but most of all about the bitterness of sitting in the changerooms at The Oval while Michael Vaughan, in ’05, or Andrew Strauss, in ’09, sprayed champagne over a triumphant England team.

”Sitting at The Oval losing the Ashes, it hurts. And there’s only one way you can get that back and that’s by getting that urn back,” Haddin said. ”I don’t use that hurt or anything as motivation. You don’t need much more motivation than coming over on this campaign, but it will hurt forever I think. So I’d love to win this one, to take a little bit of that hurt away.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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