England are set to have a farewell lunch at Lord’s on Friday, before flying to Australia on Saturday, and it’s there that it hits you that you’re about to go and fight for the Ashes Down Under.
It’s an exciting time and a great experience but as soon as you land you start to feel the pressure of the Australian nation being really behind their team. It’s one of the country’s real strengths.
Regardless of the sport, Australia as a whole backs their sides. You notice it immediately when you touch down, and whether it’s the airport staff, taxi drivers or whoever, they will try and intimidate you and make you feel as uncomfortable as possible right from the off.
The moment you step off that plane, you have to be fully focused. You want to enjoy things, but at the same time you don’t or can’t, not fully. You have to be switched on all of the time and it’s all about building for that first Test.
There is almost a month until the first ball is bowled in earnest but it is surprising how quickly it creeps up on you. The warm-up games are crucial. England have three before the action gets underway for real at The Gabba in Brisbane on 23 November, starting with a two-day match against a Western Australia XI in Perth a week on Saturday.
During the 2010-11 series, in which England won the Ashes in Australia for the first time in 24 years, we put so much emphasis on those warm-up games. We spoke about wanting to win them all and having real momentum heading to Brisbane. In the end we won two and drew the other.
The same ought to apply this time around. England will face some hard opposition, fast bowlers and good domestic players. That preparation time is key and a failure to cover all bases will have Joe Root’s charges on the back foot quickly.
The first Test is always imperative and so it proved in 2010-11. Although we didn’t win, Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott shared a 329-run stand for the second wicket in England’s second innings to end any hope of an Australia victory and we went to Adelaide with momentum.
Contrast that to the 2013-14 campaign, during which England suffered a 5-0 whitewash, when we were annihilated. Tormentor-in-chief Mitchell Johnson took us completely by surprise and our batsmen didn’t know how to play him.
England have beaten Australia just once in nine Tests at Brisbane dating back to 1982. That match sets the tone for the whole series – we all recall Steve Harmison’s errant delivery in 2006. That series ended 5-0 too.
Whatever it takes, England need to come out of that game unscathed and it comes down to preparation and adjusting to conditions. Australian pitches are generally going to bounce more, so for the bowlers it’s about finding your length.
For the batsmen, once they’ve adjusted to the bounce and the new ball passes, they can feel pretty settled. During the 2013-14 series we just didn’t adjust to the pace of the pitches and often got blown away.
Australia is a great place to go. The public are aggressive but they do appreciate good cricket. For me, it’s the greatest place to tour, although it’s certainly better when you’re winning than losing.