England vs Australia: Who will rise from The Ashes?

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A fitting obituary published in the London Times, 1882 (Photo: Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

It is a rare morning on which an Englishman draws back the curtains and sighs with satisfaction when he is greeted not with the hullo-birds-hullo-sky of a glorious sunny sky but rather a grim, never-quite-dawn, rain-lashed landscape disappearing into the fog a mere few feet from his nose. He can hardly hide his delight, as he runs his bath and switches on the radio, at hearing that the foul weather, like the government, is already bad and is only going to get worse.

And so, after an heroic, heart-stopper of a breakfast, he dons his foul weather gear, totters off to Twickenham, and watches his team put the Australians to the sword.

Even rarer are those afternoons on which an Englishman, having seen this ancient enemy given a sound a thrashing as he could wish for, feels uneasy as a result. For last weekend’s match was a fine one, hard fought and fairly contested, and the score flattered the hosts. In fact, after three late tries, one suspected, as if the rain, fog and location were not clues enough, that this was not quite cricket.

Hence the unease.

Because the Ashes begins in altogether sunnier climes this week, and an Englishman is always aware that Good Old Albion is as likely as not to be on the receiving end of a long and far more drawn out thrashing in recompense for the rugby result.

After a mixed test series against the West Indies, it’s hard to tell how England will fare against an inexperienced Australian side with five newcomers called up to the squad for the first test. The land of rock-hard pitches, fearsomely fast bowling and jeering crowds is a difficult place for anyone to make their mark and hold their guard – after all, there are 10 players in the England squad who’ve never played a test Down Under before.

But the war of words – always an entertaining if puerile prelude – is over. The analysis has been done, the bets laid and the predictions made. None of it matters now. It’s time to pad up and, as Boycott will have it, get cracking.