Boy scouts versus Dad’s Army

November’s Ashes series, the most hyped in memory, promises to be a battle between young and old, between inexperience and gnarled old pros. So often the side who sent pensioners to Australia in recent series, it is England who will be by far the younger side as they were last year.

I was reading Tim de Lisle’s piece in today’s Times over several coffees this afternoon. In it he makes mention of England’s “young old guard”:

On Thursday, England’s captain will be Andrew Strauss, a man who made his Test debut only 27 months ago. Their gnarliest veteran will be Marcus Trescothick, aged 30. The most prized wicket will be that of Kevin Pietersen, a Test cricketer for only a year. Five of the likely squad — Alastair Cook, Jamie Dalrymple, Liam Plunkett, Sajid Mahmood and Monty Panesar — are new since the Ashes series and only Trescothick and Matthew Hoggard have Test careers stretching back three years

The situation England find themselves in is a potential precipice: they could fall spectacularly against Pakistan, or move confidently away from the edge and find young talent who have the bottle to battle their way in Australia. Replacing England’s key players in the winter were the likes of Alastair Cook, Monty Panesar and Owais Shah – none of whom were in the slightest bit fazed or overawed. They performed as they have for their counties, with little fuss and no less shortage of skill and flair (with Monty’s and Cook’s fielding the only worrying aspect).

All is not lost. In fact, I’m reminded of last September when my mate said “Well that’s that then. We’re f***** for the next Ashes.” Amid all the celebration and relief in watching England’s players lap up their victory, it was an odd angle to take. When asked to reason his oddness, he said “We weren’t expected to win it this year [2005]; we’re now favourites for next winter and it’s all going to go belly up.”

He has a point. As a nation, we’re the best, most ankle-snapping of underdogs. I don’t think expectation necessarily sits comfortably in the minds of British sportsmen and women. Think Tim Henman; think England’s Rugby Union squad after winning the World Cup; England’s footballers, well, the less said about them the better. And to that list you can add the England cricket team. So maybe (he says, clutching armfuls of straw) England’s current woes might stand them in better stead for the future than we believe. The thought of having the 2005 squad back together again is fanciful; it won’t happen, and England could well be thankful for that so long as the young replacements mature quickly and rid themselves of, well, the “replacements” tag.

Don’t underestimate the importance of this series against Pakistan in the rebuilding of England. It’s massive, and promises to be absolutely fascinating.

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