These are good times to be a British sports fan.
Last weekend saw the British and Irish Lions win their first series in 16 years when they defeated Australia in Sydney and Andy Murray become the first British winner of the Wimbledon Men’s Singles title since Fred Perry in 1936.
Murray’s victory over Serbia’s Novak Djokovic sparked a mood of British sporting euphoria last seen during the London Olympics when last year when British competitors won a clutch of gold medals.
However, euphoria is a hard thing to translate from one sport to another.
England are the favorites as they bid for a third straight Test series win over archrivals Australia that starts tomorrow in Nottingham, England.
However, the lesson of history is that touring Australia parties billed as “the weakest to travel for an Ashes” are rarely that.
The last time that line was used was in 1989, when Australia regained the Ashes by a 4-0 margin.
In March, Australia were thrashed 4-0 in India, where England won late last year, and come into this series with huge question marks over their batting which, with the exception of captain Michael Clarke — battling a longstanding back problem — lacks proven world-class performers.
However, an attack set to be led by Peter Siddle — fifth in the world rankings — and likely to feature promising paceman James Pattinson could cause England problems.
“We’re not going into this game viewing the Australians as anything other than a very difficult team to beat — despite recent results in India ... We’re not viewing them as a pushover at all,” said England off-spinner Graeme Swann, who is set to play on his Trent Bridge home ground in tomorrow’s game.
Australia vice captain Brad Haddin said the injection of enthusiasm provided by several potential Ashes debutants could be just what the team, regrouping under coach Darren Lehmann after South African Mickey Arthur was sacked last month, need.
“One thing we have in our favor is you just don’t know what some of these guys are capable of on the international stage,” Haddin said. “We’ve got a lot of talent in that room and some very, very exciting cricketers. It’s going to be exciting to see them unleashed in the biggest series of all.”
England’s batting in their recent home series win against New Zealand was not as dominant as some had predicted, although, significantly, they were then without the injured Kevin Pietersen, now recovered from a knee injury.
Pietersen, after scoring a brilliant century against his native South Africa at Headingley last year, was briefly dropped by England for sending text messages allegedly critical of then-captain Andrew Strauss to Proteas players.
England batting great Geoffrey Boycott, an equally controversial figure during an international career spanning from the 1960s to 1980s, was once heard to remark: “They don’t want me, but they want my runs.”
Although no one in the current England set-up would, at least publicly, use similar language to describe former captain Pietersen’s recall, it appears a hard-headed assessment of his worth has trumped all other considerations.
One of Alastair Cook’s first acts as England captain following Strauss’ retirement was to bring Pietersen back on board for the tour of India, where the batsman scored a brilliant 186 in Mumbai.
Pietersen’s average against Australia — 52.71 — is higher than his impressive career-best of 49.01 and so long as he remains enthused by the challenge of Test cricket, he remains a dangerous opponent.
“He was exceptional in India not only on the field, but also he changed his demeanour off it as well and really became a positive part of the side,” Swann said. “We have absolutely no issues with Kev. He doesn’t seem to have any issues with the team and that bodes well for the next seven weeks.”