England take on Australia Down Under in the first test of five on December 8 – and Sam Quek believes five home nation stars will have to step up, in particular
To many people cricket will always hold a quintessentially traditional and genteel reputation. Test cricket, in particular, can feel so very English like a cup of tea or a scone with clotted cream.
But I genuinely can’t remember another sport in the last ten years or so that has been gripped by more controversy or crisis. Whether it be team fallouts, match fixing, ball tampering, off-field disciplinary issues, on-field behaviour or arguments over new tournaments – there is rarely nothing going on within the sport.
Of course, none of these compare with the racism issues engulfing the game at the moment which truly call for institutional change.
Within the drama that cricket seems to create, the Ashes always feels like a particular focal point of intensity. The history and rivalry between England and Australia just seem to place the series on a different level to anything else in Test cricket. And, with the series less than ten days away, another bit of drama duly arrived just recently.
The Australian captain, Tim Paine, resigned over sexually explicit text messages he sent to a female co-worker in 2017 prior to landing the captaincy. A change of captain this close to the start of the Ashes would be big news in any context but within this context, it was another cricketing scandal. The intrigue on the upcoming series immediately went up a few levels.
As most people know, I’m not a cricketing aficionado but I do love massive sporting contests of any kind and the Ashes is no different. As I look closer at the series, I realise what a huge challenge England have ahead of them.
This isn’t necessarily because Australia have just won the T20 World Cup, although that definitely won’t help in calming the Aussie crowds or in dampening the confidence of their players – it was more just a look at the history of the Ashes. Since 1980, England have only won twice in Australia out of ten Ashes series. Those statistics tell the story of how hard it is to win in Australia.
To the players, history will be virtually irrelevant, it is all about now. But that doesn’t hide the fact that what lies ahead of them is massive; and in the face of such a big challenge for a team, the role of the senior players is crucial.
On occasions this big, whether it be an Olympic final or a first Ashes Test in Brisbane, you need your most experienced players to perform at their absolute best.
This was no different for us in the Rio 2016 Olympics when Kate Richardson-Walsh, Helen Richardson-Walsh, Maddie Hinch and myself needed to stand up. Don’t get me wrong, there can be stand out performances from younger players in these situations, but they have to be seen as a bonus rather than part of a strategy.
Joe Root, Jimmy Anderson, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Stuart Broad are the key to any hope England have in Australia. It is an enormous weight on their shoulders all but that is why they are the players they are. England will need their very best.