Ashes diary: All hands on deck for England, Australia beer blunder and Hameed’s haircut

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·4-min read
Ashes diary: All hands on deck for England, Australia beer blunder and Hameed’s haircut
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  • Ben Stokes
    Ben Stokes
    Cricketer (born 1991)
  • Joe Root
    Joe Root
    English cricketer (born 1990)
  • Haseeb Hameed
    English cricketer (born 1997)

The Fourth Test of these Ashes is just around the corner but Covid news continues to dominate the series and cause all sorts of disruption.

Here’s our cricket correspondent Will Macpherson with his latest tour diary...

Back to basics for England

There was a prescient quote towards the end of Ben Stokes’ chat with reporters on Sunday.

Speaking about England’s preparation for this Test, with three senior coaches in isolation having tested positive for Covid, he said: “You almost go back to club cricket. You have to do your own stuff. You look after yourself and your own preparation. You don’t have the luxury we normally do at the top level.”

Well, there was certainly something of the Tuesday night net session about England training today. Ollie Pope and physio Craig de Weymarn fed the slip catchers their practice nicks, while Rory Burns launched balls at batters with the wanger. The vibe was very relaxed, which is probably the only approach on this “couldn’t make it up” tour.

And Stokes? Well he took the opportunity to try to batter his way back into form. He warmed up by playfully impersonating the iconic stance of the West Indies legend Shivnarine Chanderpaul, before a serious net against Jimmy Anderson, Mark Wood and Ollie Robinson, England’s attack in Melbourne.

He then moved across to another net, where Dan Lawrence, Dawid Malan and Dom Bess were bowling spin. Stokes seemed determined to hit his way into form, launching about a dozen sixes. Zak Crawley and Joe Root were tasked with collecting the debris from the stands.

It was then Stokes’ turn to bowl some off-spin. As ever, it was tidy, and served the purpose of allowing the batters Jonny Bairstow and Crawley to leave the net with their confidence boosted.

Curiously, the one man who did not get his hands dirty during the session was Ashley Giles, the Managing Director, as well as former coach and player. Until Jack Leach bowled to Buttler, he was merely an observer.

All change for Hameed

An arresting sight at that net session: Haseeb Hameed has had a haircut! A key plank of the opener’s return to Test cricket has been the luscious long locks he has sported since the pandemic.

Under the “Level 4” restrictions the teams have been living under since the tour arrived in Melbourne, players are unable to enter barbers. But special arrangements were made for barbers – Covid-free, of course – to come to them, and Hameed was one of those to take advantage. His hair is not as short as it once was, but he’s had a significant trim.

On closer inspection, Hameed had also made another change: to his bat sponsor. Out with the Gray Nicolls of old, in with the DSC.

Taking the negatives

More positive tests in Australian cricket, unsurprisingly. First was the news that Nick Hockley, the Cricket Australia Chief Executive, had Covid-19. He had been isolating since undergoing a PCR test following mild symptoms on Sunday, and will miss the Test as he stays home with his family, who tested negative.

Then the Melbourne Stars’ outbreak continued, with English batter Joe Clarke and his new opening partner Tom Rogers, who had both scored fifties yesterday, testing positive. The Stars are now missing 10 players to positive tests, but continue to find more to field.

Beer we go

An entertaining story emerged in the Aussie media today. Code reported that the players were ticked off by Cricket Australia for celebrating the Ashes win by drinking craft beer from Victoria’s St Andrews Beach brewery (David Warner is an investor), rather than 4 Pines, “the official beer of the Australian Men’s Cricket Team”. You naughty, naughty boys.

Testing times

The sluggish return of PCR test results is an issue across Australia, but especially in Sydney, at the moment. It is affecting the England camp, too. Yesterday, many went into the latest Covid test – their seventh in eight days – before receiving the results from their last.

On Tuesday, they had to pose for the customary Sydney team photograph in pink caps and shirts with pink numbers on the back standing, at a social distance, rather than seated as usual. This was because yesterday’s tests were yet to return so they wanted to avoid getting too close to one another.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Earlier, as if to tease England, Australia had done their photoshoot without social distancing and with their full band of 15 support staff in shot. Four members of England’s backroom team are in isolation having tested positive for Covid.

Busy boys

An eventful press conference for Steve Smith, even if he didn’t say much of note. We know he’s a fidget, but so expressive and Italian was he with his hand and arm movements that he managed to send media manager Cole Hitchcock’s phone flying from his hand. “I’m not sure I’ve ever done that before,” smiled Smith.

Waiting patiently for Smith to finish was Joe Root, up next. An errant ball from Australia’s fielding training flew towards Root, who swept to his right, picked up and launched an inch-perfect throw over the stumps. He was rewarded with applause from the Australian camp.

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