Feral. Loud. Relentless.
As we have seen since forever, they do things differently over here… a place where aggression and enmity are hard-wired into the nation’s cricketing DNA.
Of course, England have won in Australia as well, but only four times since 1954. And more often, they have lost horribly there. Teams have fallen apart, careers have been ended and players bombarded from the streets to the newspaper stands.
So what are the pressures of an Ashes tour for the Pommies ?
Australia is a tough place to tour, from the moment you land in the country. Quite literally. Former England spinner Phil Tufnell, who played in two losing Ashes tours, remembers, “Even the customs officers tends to have a go at you soon as you stepped foot on the tarmac. We might have even got sledged by the captain of the flight as we left !!”
On the 1998–99 tour, England batsman John Crawley was making his way back to the team hotel in Cairns when he was punched by a drunken stranger.
And their welcome begins at the Gabbatoir, Australia’s fortress where English hearts are habitually broken…
There is something about the heat and the stillness, the concrete of Gabba and its surroundings, the baying and the hooting of a Queensland crowd, that can make an English cricketer feel very far from home indeed.
The playing area itself is compact and claustrophobic. “Standing on the boundary,” Dawid Malan observed earlier this week, “you’re almost in the crowd.” And it is not a crowd that tends to be shy of an opinion.
“Brisbane is a cauldron. It is the least genteel crowd I’ve ever known. It’s feral. It’s loud,” says Swann.
“They put the signs up saying no sledging can be on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation. And then pretty much everything that gets said to you is based on all three. What is different is the noise levels and the biased nature of the crowd. People go at you all day, every day. They’re very pro their own country and abrasive.”
During the 2013 Ashes in England, Broad chose not to stroll in spite of a clear edge to wicket keeper Brad Haddin. Australia were apoplectic. Coach Darren Lehmann called Broad a “blatant cheat” and also prompted the followers to “make him cry” when England visited Australia later on that year.
And the crowd made it a personal vendetta…
And who can forget Botham the Pig…
Brisbane’s unique hostility can also provide the canvas for a very particular sort of English heroism from the unlikeliest sources. England’s last victory here came in 1986–87 courtesy of Ian Botham’s last great Test innings, a brilliant 138 that got his side out of trouble and paved the way for an unlikely Ashes triumph.
Seven years ago, meanwhile, Alastair Cook played a stunning rearguard of 235, an innings of which even he had barely considered himself capable. England came away with a draw that felt like a victory, and the tone for a famous tour was set.