Ashes 2021 tour diary: Frustrated England get creative with treasure hunt amid Brisbane downpours

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We are now just one week away from the start of the first Ashes Test between Australia and England in Brisbane.

The downpours caused by La Nina have hampered both teams’ preparations for the series, but have done little to dampen the enthusiasm for one of sport’s most captivating events.

Standard Sport’s cricket correspondent Will Macpherson is in Australia and offers the first instalment of his Ashes tour diary....

Getting creative

With all the rain falling, England’s players are having to get inventive to fill their time. Besides the dull diet of indoor nets, they are setting out on long walks around Brisbane, which on Wednesday included a treasure hunt around Brisbane, and saw them hire scooters briefly on Tuesday. Jack Leach even thinks it’s helping team morale.

“We’ve got quite imaginative in terms of spending time on our feet,” he said. “We went for a long walk in the rain yesterday, which was good fun. Things like that have helped us come together as a group a little bit more. Morale’s been good, and the lads have responded well.

“You can’t control the weather. We’ve been focusing on what we can control, and trying to let go of the other things. Some real positive things have come of that. Perfect prep and everything’s laid on for you, maybe you can miss a few things. I’ve felt that mentally I’ve had to be a lot stronger through this preparation. Finding ways of getting what you need and disregarding everything you don’t. I think there’s been some positives to come out of it.”

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Leach is like all spinners, in that he loves to have overs under his belt as preparation. That has not been possible, although he has admitted he’s been wheeling away in his bedroom. “I’m not shy of bowling in my hotel room anyway, in front of the mirror,” he said. Better than nothing.

Other England players are thinking laterally to fill their time, too. Ben Stokes and Stuart Broad are starting a podcast.

Green with envy

Leach had another entertaining story about England’s off-field escapades. He ate out with Broad and James Anderson a few nights ago, and they were approached by an Aussie punter.

“He said, 'Hey guys, I just want to wish you the worst of luck at the Gabba’. So that was quite funny," said Leach.

"And then he said to us, 'It's going to be a green seamer at the Gabba' and I was thinking 'I'm not sure that's the best sledge to two of the greatest bowlers that England have ever had'. I think they were pretty pleased about that."

Pride of Lions

Given the paucity of practice matches, England’s squad is feeling pretty bloated. They have 17 players in the main squad, and almost as many with the Lions, who are at a bit of a loose end.

The Lions face Australia A in a first-class match from Thursday next week, but the game is likely to end up being used to get innings and overs into those in the main squad who are not selected in the First Test. There will be three batters, a spinner and at least three bowlers looking for some practice.

The expectation is that England would be able to use players in that game, then withdraw them if they were suddenly required as a concussion or Covid replacement for the Test team. Unused Lions players can be the Test side’s sub fielders.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Officially neutral

The Covid-enforced use of home umpires will continue in this series. Paul Reiffel, Rod Tucker and Paul “Blocker” Wilson will rotate through the series, with David Boon the match referee.

It will be the first time in 30 years that an Ashes Test has featured two home umpires.

Final countdown

Melbourne seems a city very keen on stepping in to host the final Test of the series, now Perth has effectively ruled itself out of the running with its savage border controls. Neither of these bubble-battered teams would accept further quarantine, so that is that.

Even their sports minister is on record saying he would rather maintain Western Australia’s “incredible” Covid-free environment than host the Test, while Cameron Green – born and bred in Perth – seems unfussed too.

A day-nighter in Melbourne in mid-January really does seem the ideal replacement. It will provide a point of difference to the Test there three weeks before, it suits the time zone (Perth is three hours behind Melbourne) and the vast capacity of the ground makes it very commercially appealing to Cricket Australia.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Melburnians have spent 262 days in lockdown since the pandemic began and will lap up any sport on offer. The Australian Open is due to start during the final Test match (14-18 January).

“The Victorian government has certainly made it clear to Cricket Australia that if the Perth Test is unable to go ahead that we’d be not just prepared to host the fifth Test but very keen to host the fifth Test,” Victorian sports minister Martin Pakula said.

“I’ve spoken to Cricket Australia and they’ve got a decision to make, firstly about whether they go with Perth ... and if they can’t got to Perth and it’s a commercial decision than I think the MCG’s claims are pretty close to undeniable.”

Getting the band back together

England already have Jonathan Trott and Paul Collingwood with them as coaches around the Ashes. Now another member of the vaunted batting lineup in the 2010/11 series is in Australia too.

Ian Bell has joined Hobart Hurricanes as an assistant coach, where the five-time Ashes winner will work with a couple of young Yorkshiremen in Harry Brook and Jordan Thompson.

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