Former England skipper Alastair Cook has hit back at a constant stream of Ashes barbs by pointedly warning their rivals not to be the first Australia side to lose at the Gabba since 1988.
Pre-series mind games were intensified on Monday by spinner Nathan Lyon, possibly one of the unlikeliest of sources, as he celebrated his 30th birthday by unleashing a barrage of criticism at England players past and present.
Lyon claimed that England’s entire batting line-up was scared during the 2013-14 Ashes when the tourists were whitewashed 5-0, and insisted Australia intended to end Test careers this time around.
But Cook, free from the shackles of captaincy, challenged Australia’s over-confidence and moved to heap pressure onto their foes prior to the opener at the “Gabbatoir”, which starts on Thursday.
“You don’t go into any game wanting to draw it, but a draw here would be a really good way to start the tour – and one day Australia will lose at Brisbane in the Ashes,” said Cook, in reference to England’s failure to win at The Gabba since 1986.
“Records don’t go on for ever. Look at any other sport and you will see everything changes eventually. You wouldn’t want to be part of the Australia side that does lose at The Gabba.
“All the talk makes you chuckle. It is about what happens over the next five days. Whichever side bowls better, bats better, takes the catches will, unsurprisingly, dominate the game.
“The Australia pace attack [Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood] are very good bowlers with good records, but there is nothing we haven’t seen before. They’re not suddenly bowling at 150mph.
“They don’t have magic deliveries that start way outside the stumps and swing miles. You want to challenge yourself against the best and this is a decent bowling attack. As batsmen, that is the challenge we have.”
Australia have navigated their last 28 Tests in Brisbane undefeated, 21 of which have been victories, but off-spinning all-rounder Moeen Ali has echoed Cook’s sentiments and insists that the hosts’ dominance is not intimidating.
“There is genuine confidence we can win here,” said Moeen. “I would say it is going to be tough for us but records are there to be broken. We’ve got guys who have batted here before. It would be great to come away with a win and get a good start to the series.”
Moeen also denied that renewed talk of all-rounder Ben Stokes, who remains under police investigation following his arrest in September on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm, potentially joining the tour represented a distraction.
It is believed that Avon and Somerset Police may be close to making a decision on whether Stokes will face criminal charges, and the 26-year-old has posted footage of himself batting and bowling in the nets on social media.
“It is obviously exciting he is back batting, bowling and training,” added Moeen. “We don’t know what is going on at the moment but it’s not a distraction. We have the players here and we know what we need to do.
“We are going into the series knowing there is a good chance he won’t be here, so if he comes it will be a massive bonus for us but we don’t see it as a distraction whatsoever.”