Australia embark on quest for defining victories in World Test Championship final and Ashes
An Australian squad arriving for an Ashes tour of the UK is not like it used to be. Long gone are the days of landing en masse at Heathrow airport in late April to begin a month of county matches before the real thing started. Even a single warm-up game is no longer a reality.
This generation of players will convene over the next few days from a variety of locations with little more than a week to prepare for their first challenge of the trip which has nothing to do with Ben Stokes and Bazball as they look to secure the World Test Championship against India.
There is a view, and not only shared by Australia, that the value of the tour match has diminished so much as to make them redundant. Head coach Andrew McDonald believes self-contained intrasquad training, in a controlled environment, can be more beneficial. In their favour this time is that conditions in the UK will be less extreme than those that presented in India (notwithstanding the challenge the Dukes ball can provide) and for which a few days at North Sydney Oval was not like-for-like.
The fact the India Test comes first and so close to the beginning of the England series makes this a curious build-up to the Ashes. In a sense it almost goes on pause while the business of deciding the Test champion is confirmed, but in reality one will spill into the other especially when it comes to form and any potential injuries.
“Feels as though it’s coming together well,” McDonald said earlier this week. “If you’d asked me a month ago it feels disjointed, got people everywhere, but having that week [in Brisbane] when we connected with the players back in Australia, those guys are almost fully wound up and ready to go and that was by design. We have a shorter prep on the ground when we get over there.”
This year – with the trio of top-level Test assignments laid out in front of them – was billed as era-defining. “We’ve spoken about being on a continual journey,” McDonald said. “It will be up to others to define the team.”
The opportunity in India had gone almost before they realised but they were strong enough to not fall apart. The next two months will go a long way to determining how this group, under Pat Cummins’ leadership, will be remembered. If they can emerge as World Test Champions and win an Ashes in England for the first time since 2001 it would give the team a legacy. As Meatloaf sang, two out of three ain’t bad.