Joe Root, the England captain, feels the side is better prepared for the level of aggression they may encounter in the Ashes than they were four years ago.
Root dismissed the talk that England “feared” the Australian bowling attack as “a load of rubbish” and urged Australia to “bring it on.” But he did accept the England side beaten 5-0 in 2013-14 might have allowed the pre-series talk – and the extent of the hostility the team faced when they reached the first Test – to take them by surprise.
“There’s been a lot of talk,” Root said. “Some of it exciting and some of it a load of rubbish. Especially from some of the Aussie players.
“Last time that caught us out, but I think we are a bit wiser this time. It’s making sure we are absolutely prepared for any scenario and absolutely ready for that first game, whatever they do throw at us. We expect it to be hostile. We expect it to be a very loud and rowdy atmosphere at the Gabba. We are in a good place and ready for that. We have got our heads round what to expect.
“Fear is not the right word [to describe England’s attitude]. Respect probably is. They have a lot of quality in their attack, but we have lots of quality in our side too.”
Root was particularly bemused by the suggestion that he was going to be “targeted” by the opposition bowlers, and suggested he would leave the pre-series chatter to Australia.
“I’ve heard a lot of chat about targeting me, in particular,” he said. “That’s always the talk.
“From our point of view, we’ll be targeting every single one of them – we won’t be singling any one out. To win a Test you’ve got to take 20 wickets. But you want that competitive element to it. And those little in-house rivalries. It should be a great series. They’ve got some great players within their squad. And good characters, as well, which, I’m sure will make for great viewing.
“I try not to do too much talking. That’s more for them to worry about. The more you say the more it can backfire on you. We will go about things our way.”
Root did admit, however, that he wanted England’s batsmen to take the opportunity to score “big hundreds” in the warm-up match in Townsville. Accepting that batting collapses had been a regular feature of their cricket in recent times, he conceded it remained a work in progress.
“That’s one of the things we want to get out of this game: guys going on and making big hundreds,” Root said. “It’s something we’re going to have to have throughout the five Tests.
“We are always chatting about how we can prevent those clusters of wickets falling. You want to prevent it. As a batting side, we have discussed it and there have been a few occasions in the summer where it hasn’t quite gone to plan. There are always areas you want to work on and improve. That’s one we’ve made a conscious effort to try and rectify and hopefully we won’t have to think about it too much over the next few weeks.”
England have made no attempt to hide their Test team with their selection for the Townsville game which starts on Wednesday. The same top six that featured in Adelaide will play once more – James Vince will bat at No. 3 in Brisbane and Dawid Malan at No. 5 – while Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad return – at No. 7 and No. 10 respectively. Chris Woakes and Craig Overton have been granted their wish for another match ahead of the series. Mason Crane, too, retains his place.
That means no opportunity for Tom Curran or George Garton in sight at the moment. So while England hope to arrive at Brisbane with their first choice XI having had an optimum amount of cricket, they have left themselves no margin for error should one of their first-choice seamers suffer an injury on the morning of the Test. In that case, it could lead to a situation where either Curran (who has not had a competitive bowl on the tour) or Jake Ball (who has bowled just 22 first-class deliveries on the tour and is currently nursing strained ankle ligaments) will have to play.
Ball, at least, appears to be progressing nicely. He is expected to return to running on Wednesday.
Anderson also missed training on Tuesday due to sickness. It is not understood to be serious and he was not going to play in the Townsville match anyway.
While rain curtailed training in Townsville on Tuesday – bad luck as it has rained only a couple of times in the last year or two here – the current long-range forecast suggest the first Test could also be rain-affected. England, however, had a brief opportunity to look at the surface to be used in the match. Contrary to pre-tour hopes, they now expect it to be relatively slow.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.