The Ashes is the longest running competition in world sport spanning 130 years.
Despite its history, its fine traditions, it’s a team sport that lends itself to domination by extraordinary characters.
Australia’s leg spinner Shane Warne is a larger than life character, he is the world’s leading wicket taker and he makes headlines for his feats on the pitch as well as his many off-field indiscretions.
Warne realizes his imagine is one thing, but the man another.
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He landed himself in hot water when he remarked on the value of coaching, “I think the old question…does the coach make the team, or does the team make the coach? I’m a big believer as Ian Chappell is that the coach is something you travel in to and from the game.”
That type of frankness is a headache for the media advisers that look after the Australian cricket team.
They prefer that Warne sticks to script, the worn out sporting clichés and television sound bites that say nothing. In this desolate media landscape Shane Warne is an oasis.
As a case in point, the leg spinner questioned Buchanan’s army style boot camp as part of the Australian team’s preparations to regain the Ashes.
“I just disagree with certain tactics that he actually does. I think a lot of players and coaches sometimes they don’t agree with the way that people do it but they still get along and they toe the line and you do what’s expected of you.
“Some of his methods, I thought he just complicated some of the issues and I thought at stages he lacked a little bit of common sense.”
His teammates toed the company line, despite privately supporting Warne.
The pressure builds
The Australians are aware no amount of eloquence or talk can ever explain a way their defeat in the last Ashes Series and the pressure is on to get them back.
“I think the most important thing we can look at is the fact its going to be the biggest series I have ever played in and maybe for some of my teammates walking around here we are all in the same boat,” said fast bowler Brett Lee.
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Lee will play a vital role in Australia’s quest to regain the Ashes, his 24 pace run, his unharnessed hostility and unbridled speed are a frightening sight, especially if you happen to be an Englishman less than 20 yards away tapping your bat nervously in the block hole.
The same could apply for batsman Mike Hussey who is an integral member of the batting line up with a test average over 75. He is also tipped to become the next Australian captain.
Hussey believes the battle for the Australians to win the Ashes will be with themselves, their weaknesses, their emotions and their lack of resolution in seeing things through to the end.
“Australia has always been considered as great front runners when things go well we will blow everybody off the park.
“When things aren’t going quite well, when we are tired or under pressure we can be at times become fragmented,” he explained.
The Freddy factor
And then there’s Andrew Flintoff.
“Andrew Flintoff is a danger man he plays with heart and passion and he will drag so many players of theirs along he is a class all-rounder. He bowls fantastically well, to have a player so good in both disciplines is a huge plus,” Hussey explained.
A man not worried by Flintoff or by any Englishman, is speedster Glen McGrath.
“I feel England haven’t played as well to be honest, I have been disappointed in the way they’re played since the Ashes tour, and this has taken some pressure off them.”
Mind games perhaps by McGrath, but fellow bowler Jason Gillespie is under no illusions what needs to be done to win the series.
“The Ashes will come down to the crucial moments in the game. Who’s going to stand up and be counted when their team needs them to do that dirty work?”
Who ever that player is from either side will hit pay dirt, only the Ashes can promise such glory.