England will need better play not bitter ‘banter’ to transform Ashes

England's James Anderson (second right) exchanges words with Australia's Michael Clarke (right)
England's James Anderson (second right) exchanges words with Australia's Michael Clarke (right)
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The tourists must not get drawn into a war of words with Australia and need to let their cricket do the talking, believes Chris Waters.

IF the pre-match prattle is any indication, Australia once more plan to hit England between the ears as much as between the eyes in the second Test that starts in Adelaide on Thursday.

After Australia captain Michael Clarke was fined 20 per cent of his match fee following his side’s 381-run win in the first Test at Brisbane, for telling England’s No 11 James Anderson to “get ready for a broken f****** arm”, the Aussies confirmed there would be no let-up in the verbal aggression.

Pace bowler Mitchell Johnson, who is no stranger to dishing out a few expletives of his own, revealed that Australia would keep on sledging.

“I think it’s worked for us,” he said. “I definitely think they (England) are rattled by it.

“They don’t like it at all, and that’s not going to change from our end.”

Johnson, who claimed Clarke was only standing up for team-mate George Bailey, who had allegedly been the subject of a few verbals from Anderson earlier in the match, “thought it was really good what Michael did as a captain” because “that’s what you want your captain to do – to stand up for the players”.

Yep, there will be plenty more in-your-face stuff from the Aussies in Adelaide as this playground Test series continues apace.

Behind all the puerility and postering, the barbs and baloney, there is, however, a serious point.

England may not be whiter than white when it comes to sledging, with Anderson one of the chief antagonists, but they have two choices when it comes to dealing with Australia’s unashamed tactic of trying to turn the series into a full-blown battle.

They can either fight fire with fire and become embroiled in a war of words, with the impotent umpires seemingly powerless to cut out the childishness, or they can turn the other cheek and concentrate on the cricket.

Considering they are 1-0 down and just one defeat in Adelaide away from effectively losing the series, it is imperative that they let their cricket do the talking.

Of course, no one is saying that England should not stand up for themselves and summon the famous bulldog spirit.

When the chips are down, the side have previously shown their capacity to bounce back strongly; why, England lose the first Test of just about every overseas tour, don’t they? But Australia have got them right where they want them – not just behind the eight-ball in terms of wins, but focusing on distracting matters such as verbal aggression.

England must not get sucked into it and need to make their point with bat and ball – not with their tongues.

If anything, Australia’s over-aggression could work in England’s favour. If the tourists can keep their cool and not get dragged into such tiresome side issues, Australia could end up shooting themselves in the foot.

Writing as one who predicted that Australia would win the Ashes before a ball was bowled, I saw nothing in the actual cricket at Brisbane to change my opinion, but methinks that Australia are talking too much.

Indeed, if England square the series this week – as they are eminently capable of doing – all this talk of England being “rattled” by sledging and by pace bowling in general is going to look pretty foolish and the momentum of the series totally transformed.

If I was in the Australia camp, I would be reminding myself of two things: first, England have won the last three Ashes series and, second, Australia have won only one of their last 10 Test matches, hardly a record to spread fear and terror.

Australia are playing well at the moment and undoubtedly have the talent to win the series, but why on earth are they talking so much?

It is only going to make it that much harder for them to respond if England bounce back further down the line.

They are setting themselves up for a fall.

Australia’s chief talker is David Warner, who appears to have a magnet-to-iron filings relationship with controversy.

Warner, who infamously punched Yorkshire’s Joe Root in a Birmingham bar last summer, was at his brainless best in Brisbane when he described Jonathan Trott’s second innings dismissal as “pretty poor and pretty weak”.

As soon as the words fell from his mouth, you could hear them land on the floor with an almighty clang.

The sound only reverberated when Trott pulled out of the tour just a few hours later – not because of Warner’s comments, it should be stated, but due to a long-standing stress-related illness.

If Team England is a somewhat cocky institution, with an unnecessary swagger and defensiveness about it, then Australia is becoming a classless one. Why, it is difficult to recall an international captain acting as crassly as Clarke did in Brisbane with Anderson (and before anyone screams “Mike Gatting Faisalabad 1987” it as well to remember that Clarke was not having to deal with the bumbling Shakoor Rana).

It is impossible, also, to imagine Alastair Cook acting that way, for whatever one thinks about Cook’s tendency towards caution and a closed-ranks mentality, one can safely say that he has a bit more class about him than his Australian counterpart.

Verbals, of course, are part and parcel of the great game of cricket. They always have been; WG Grace was not immune from venturing the odd observation, while Fred Trueman was a veritable stand-up act as well as a venomous fast bowler.

The difference now is that the talking is mostly unfunny and, as proved by Clarke’s exchange with Anderson, downright abusive.

Indeed, if you told someone in Leeds city centre to “get ready for a broken f******* arm”, you would probably be arrested.

There is a clear dividing line between banter and verbal abuse and you suspect that it will be crossed many more times before the series is out.

At least Australia coach Darren Lehmann has confirmed that his team will not use Trott’s illness as a sledging topic.

Thank goodness for small mercies. But that it even has to be clarified tells its own story.