ENGLAND v AUSTRALIA
Thursday September 3, 11am
Steve Smith recently celebrated international dog day by posting a picture of himself with his pooch Charlie, and the message that he was looking forward to “getting home to see the little fella”.
Now maybe I’m reading too much into that, but it read to me like a message from a guy who is in need of a break, even though he perhaps doesn’t realise it himself. Months away from Oz, the strain of losing an Ashes series, it has to take its toll.
You see even if like Smith you do a job you love – and even if you’ve just had the thrill of being appointed captain of your country – you need a break. We all do. I love my job, but there’s a couple of weeks in June every year when I sit by a pool or on a beach in Spain, read thrillers instead of sports pages, and unwind.
I tell people it makes me want to win the lottery and spend all year by the pool or on the beach, but I’m lying. It actually gets me ready for the football season to start again and I can’t wait to get to the first game, laptop in hand, and get the buzz of filing a report in time for a deadline.
So while other people were mocking Eoin Morgan for asking Middlesex for time off before he pulled on cricket’s equivalent of a captain’s armband for England, I could quite understand where he was coming from.
When he reported back from work and told everybody he was “twice the man” and was fit and raring to go, I think most people didn’t believe him. And then he smashed 74 in 39 balls to put England in a winning position in the T20 in Cardiff yesterday, and forced everybody to think again.
As a warm-up to the One Day International series to come it was perfect. Morgan can take that same freshness to Southampton on Thursday with an England side who have transformed their whole outlook this summer.
I take the excellent point made by Ed Hawkins that Ashes winners tend to lose the ODI series that follows. But in this case there has to be a huge argument for laying world champions Australia at 1.73 for this series.
Because while Morgan is refreshed, and the England team of new faces look equally enthusiastic, you got the sense from Cardiff that the Aussies can’t wait to go home.
Six of the key players who will form the backbone of their side for the first ODI in Southampton have been here all summer, and must still be wondering why they won’t be going home with the little Urn.
The new ones are looking for leadership, and judging by the way they crumbled in the last couple of overs in Cardiff they aren’t finding it. Australian teams, traditionally, don’t throw away games from winning positions. This one just has done, so why would you want to back them and risk them doing it again?
Smith has been one of the success stories of the summer, and the stats suggest he led from the front in his first game since being appointed Michael Clarke’s successor. His 90 off 53 balls was another reminder of why he finished the Ashes series as the top run scorer.
But when it came to the crunch he was part of the failure to get his side over the line, and that has to have sowed some seeds of doubt in his mind when it comes to his new job as a leader.
It has been a long summer for the Aussies, and they are vulnerable right now. The big fear for the new skipper is he could be heading back home to the dog house!