England have had a tough time down under so far, losing the first two matches to the hosts and have their backs to the wall as they look to try and make a comeback in the series. The team touched down in Australia at the end of October for a series in which they were 25/1 outsiders in the cricket betting and now, with just a couple of days to go before the third Test gets underway, Joe Root and his men need to regroup and get their focus back in order to avoid losing the series in the next match itself.
Having been part of the team that won the first Ashes series for England in 20 years in 2005, Geraint Jones knows exactly what goes on when they face Australia. Jones was also part of the squad that went down under in 2006/07 and gave up the urn after an embarrassing 5-0 series loss. Having experienced what it is to play the Ashes in Australia, the former wicket-keeper discussed how the English team should deal with situations, both on and off the pitch, in an entertaining and revealing interview.
When he was asked about how one deals with the pressure of Ashes cricket, the man who took the match-winning catch in the second test of the 2005 Ashes at Edgbaston said, "You compartmentalize it. You turn everything into small little events and don’t think about what is at stake with that ball. I kept telling myself: There will be one more opportunity and more than likely it's going to come my way. Let's be ready for it."
Having spent his early years in Australia, Jones is familiar with the pressure put on the English team by the Australian fans and discussed that in detail, saying, "As much as anything, you get the feeling that the whole country is against you. You know it from the minute you get there. If you get a cricket fan at passport control then there's a good chance you'll have a comment made to you."
He went on to explain the importance of not taking the things said by Aussie fans seriously and advised the English cricketers to just enjoy the moment and keep the focus on their cricket. "The Aussie nation has a load of time to build up for this Ashes series whereas the actual players are moving from place to place and playing loads of cricket. The pressure when you go to Australia is massive.
You definitely have to find ways of dealing with that, and my way was laughing at it, just seeing it for what it was, a bit of tongue-in- cheek stuff, and trying as much as you can to not let that get to you."
After losing the first two matches of the series, Joe Root's men are under pressure going into the third test. Apart from being outplayed on the pitch, they have also had to deal with a lot of sledging and mental warfare from the Australians. The easiest example of that is the Jonny Bairstow's incident with Cameron Bancroft during England's first warm-up match, where a friendly greeting from Bairstow was portrayed as a head-butt by the media and used to sledge him during the first test match by the Australian fielders.
Talking about sledging in general and how it is heightened in Australia, Jones said, "I think they're probably the most persistent, and as a whole group they do it together. The English wit in terms of sledging is up there, but the Aussies are a bit more blunt with what they say to you. Playing in Australia, you know that you are going to hear them pretty much every ball, and pretty loudly. When you're a batter, you’ve got your partner at the other end but it's you against 11, really. You know when you're on strike it's your turn to get it.”
He also stressed on how the hostile crowds added to the atmosphere, saying, "They are massive stadiums. They are all big stadiums now so the numbers there, there's lots of people. Every event you know about because of the noise that comes out. But you know there's no point in trying to go up against 10,000 people in the crowd near you. Your best option is to show that you've got a personality and you're out there enjoying it, playing a game you love, and you just happen to be in the Ashes which has the biggest rivalry."
Talking about the pitches and the playing conditions down under, Jones was of the opinion that the bounce was what made it tougher to play in Australia. He described how players needed to be a bit more circumspect with their footwork and careful when they play on the back foot.
"The bounce, the wickets. You get to the Gabba and it's a bouncy track. You potentially don't charge onto the front foot as much and you have to be careful of driving and make sure that it's right under you,” Jones explained further.
The Australian media have added to the pressure of the Ashes by scrutinising the English players all the time, pointing out the inexperience in their ranks and using issues like the Jonny Bairstow incident to vilify them, creating a feeling of hatred across the nation for the visiting players.
Talking about the pressure inflicted by the media, Jones said, "That's the media's job, isn't it? As much as anything, they're the worst for creating the cracks and opening up those cracks because that is what they want. They don't particularly want harmony and to hear that everything is rosy because otherwise it's dull. The more turmoil that happens, you definitely know that the media are loving that because it gives them stuff to talk about."
He went on to say, “You try and ignore it but you can't. In an Ashes series especially, you still want to chill out and read the paper and watch TV. As much as you try and ignore it, it's virtually impossible to not be aware if you are the individual being targeted. You are definitely aware of the interest that the media has in the team.”
Famously, Jones, who had been the subject of a lot of criticism for his wicket-keeping during the 2005 Ashes, celebrated his match-winning catch in the memorable Edgbaston test by cupping his ear to the commentary box.
The Ashes is not just physically taxing but also needs a great deal of mental preparedness and adjustment to ensure one is in a position to succeed. As someone who has the experience of having been in Australia on a three-month tour, Jones insisted that it is important for the English players to not stay in the hotel all the time and advised them to explore the Australian cities in order to keep their minds fresh.
He said, "You have to find way to switch off. Get out. Get out all the time. Rarely did I have room service. It was tough at times, definitely, but like I said, you have to immerse yourself in the culture.
Somewhere like Australia you can get out. The different cities offer so much. I made a real effort to not get in the routine of room service and get out and about. When there's 20-odd of you including support staff, there's always going to be somebody you can go out for a meal with. In terms of getting out of my room, I did it as much as I could.”
If England want to force their way back into this Ashes series, it is important that they relax and let their game do the talking, and remain unaffected by the sledging and pressure of playing in Australia, and as Geraint Jones did, enjoy the rest of the series!Published 12 Dec 2017, 13:45 IST