Australia can take some lessons from England’s Ashes campaign

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It’s been 1200 days since Australia last played Test cricket overseas against an Asian opponent. That was a two-Test series against Pakistan in the UAE.

There are five guys who played in that series still playing for Australia and I’m not sure they’d have a lot of fond memories of those matches.

Marnus Labuschagne, Usman Khawaja, Travis Head, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon all had to cope with the pressure following that horrendous trip to South Africa, the subsequent suspensions for David Warner and Steve Smith, the coach being sacked and other fallout in Cricket Australia’s hierarchy.

It’s safe to suggest the attitude of the players can’t have been great. Tim Paine was trying to pull together a team down on confidence, while trying to adjust to a new coach – and trying to do all of this overseas.

Fast forward to the recent Ashes series and there’s a couple of things that 2018 Australian squad had in common with the England squad who lost the Ashes so comprehensively. Both were down on attitude and both were down on confidence.

The reasons why England were down in these two areas are vastly different to the Australians in 2018.

England had planned long and hard for this tour, yet came to Australia with only Joe Root as a Test-quality batsman.

Injuries to key players, including Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes, hurt them.

Ben Stokes reacts.

Ben Stokes reacts during the first Ashes Test at the Gabba. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

The protracted negotiations around the COVID restrictions for families before the tour highlighted concerns about players actually wanting to tour.

They had an unsettled Test team that had won only a handful of matches over the previous ten months.

In short, this squad was not mentally ready to get stuck in from ball one at the Gabba and it showed.

This is the key lesson Australia needs to take from this series. If the squad is going to be successful in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India, it must go to each country with the right attitude.

Steve Waugh talked about how an attitudinal change sparked a change in fortunes for the Australian teams he played with, when they toured the sub-continent.

Later tours were all about embracing the culture and enjoying the experience. Clearly Indian supporters are about the most passionate cricket fans on earth and possibly the noisiest. He found it was possible to enjoy their enthusiasm for the game and encouraged his players to do likewise.

He also wanted his teams to not have preconceived ideas about what to expect. He wanted his guys to accept conditions and not expect the worst from pitches and umpires. Players needed to adapt to conditions, but not be scared of them.

This positive attitude allowed players like Matthew Hayden to bat with freedom against the spinners in the 2001 tour and come away with nearly 550 runs at an average of 109.

Many Australian cricket fans will believe the toughest tour for Pat Cummins’ team to win will be in India, but Pakistan will present by far the greatest challenge.

Apart from having some outstanding fast bowlers and some world-class batsmen, it’s been decades since Australia played cricket in-country, so the majority of the squad will have little or no idea about playing conditions.

Then there’s the threat of terrorism, but if the tour goes ahead, which appears likely, the players have to trust the Australian and Pakistani authorities have their safety in hand, which allows them to focus exclusively on cricket.

It’s critical to success of that trip that once players commit, they do so unreservedly. That means players who aren’t 100 per cent sure, don’t tour. There can’t be any white-anting happening, once the tour commences.

They also need to make a decision within the next couple of weeks. We saw what can happen if this decision is not made in a timely manner, with England taking far too long to make a call about their tour.

I said earlier that, once players commit, they do so unreservedly. This comment applies to all members of the squad, including coaches, managers and other support staff.

It also applies to Cricket Australia, who must make a decision about Justin Langer’s contract before the end of the month, so this is not an ongoing distraction. Once the squad is on tour, Cricket Australia need to work closely the on-ground managers to promptly deal with any issues that arise.

Justin Langer

(Photo by Matt King – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

We saw on England’s tour what can happen when concerns are poorly managed, with players publicly complaining about all manner of problems.

If they’re having a public whinge, the chances are very high they’re having lots to say to each other privately, which does nothing to solve problems, but is terrific for sapping confidence and morale.

Once the tour starts, they all need to take a leaf out of the Steve Waugh playbook and simply enjoy themselves. Pakistan is another cricket-mad country, with spectacular scenery, great cuisine and wonderful hospitality.

The Ashes victory and the manner of the series win must have given players a huge confidence lift. All of the XI who played in the final Test must be keen to prove they can do well in all three Asian tours. They must also know how good it feels to win Tests, a feeling that will be all the sweeter, when the win is away from home in unfamiliar conditions.

This is a squad full of Test-quality players, led by the world’s best bowler and at least two of the world’s best batsmen. In terms of skill, this squad is developing nicely. In other words, there can be no excuses for performances based on form, confidence or talent.

If the attitude is right for Pakistan, Australia should be a big chance to win the series. Assuming that happens, the squad can use the momentum they gain from those results to tackle Sri Lanka and India.

Pat Cummins has already said he wants this team to get back to the top of the Test tree, but they’re not going to do that by only winning series at home.

A positive approach and positive effort in Pakistan can only help the team attain this goal over the coming months.

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