Aggers' Ashes message to England: Hold on at the Gabba, go big in Adelaide

Thursday, 23 November 2017, 09:36:18 AM. Jonathan Agnew, Grandstand's English voice for the Ashes this summer, presents his checklist of what the tourists must do Down Under in order to defend the Ashes.

Jonathan Agnew rings a bell Photo: Jonathan Agnew says England must hang on for dear life in Brisbane, before taking its chance in Adelaide. (Reuters: Philip Brown)

We are at the stage where everything that has happened in the build-up to this Ashes series is totally irrelevant.

The Ben Stokes affair, the surprise over some selections of both teams and Nathan Lyon's trash talk will cease to matter when the players walk out at the Gabba on Thursday.

Australia begins as favourite, but that brings a pressure of its own. I will always be optimistic about England's chances, but what happens over the five Tests depends entirely on the players that are lucky enough to be chosen.

Here, in my view, is what England must do in order to defend the Ashes.

Do not get blown away at the Gabba

The last time that Australia lost a Test at the Gabba, in 1988, George Bush Sr had just been elected president of the United States, Cliff Richard was about to release Mistletoe and Wine and neither Steve Smith nor Joe Root had been born.

Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen walk off the Gabba pitch Photo: By hook or by crook, England must survive the Gabbatoir to keep the series alive. (ABC: Alister Nicholson)

The last time England won in Brisbane, in 1986, they won the Ashes. When England won in Australia in 2010-11, they got out of the 'Gabbatoir' with a draw they were barely entitled to because of some heroic batting from Alastair Cook, Andrew Strauss and Jonathan Trott.

Similarly, when they were destroyed 5-0 here four years ago, the Gabba was where we got our first glimpse of the destruction that Mitchell Johnson would cause. England never recovered.

It's not being negative to say that England must do everything it can not to lose the first Test.

It will not be easy, not only because Australia's team is well suited to playing in Brisbane, but because of the hostility of the place. From ground-level, if you look up, the stadium feels like it is on top of you.

There's no doubt that it is intimidating, but intimidated is something that England simply cannot be.

Do not play that big drive early on and nick to slip, do not take on the short ball and hole out to long leg, do not be taken out of your comfort zone and do something that you regret later.

Remember that this is the same game you have been playing all of your life. Yes, there is the extra spice of it being the first match of an Ashes series, but know that only by doing the basics right will you succeed.

England must not give Australia the momentum, especially with what comes next.

Take the chance in Adelaide

The second Test in Adelaide, the first day-nighter in men's Ashes cricket, provides England with a real opportunity. It is imperative it arrives in South Australia in the right frame of mind to take it.

In the evening conditions, with the pink ball moving around, it gives a chance for James Anderson and Stuart Broad to show off the full range of their skills.

Photo of the lights at Adelaide Oval day-night Test Photo: The Adelaide Oval under lights provides a bowling opportunity for the likes of James Anderson. (AP Photo: Rick Rycroft)

Even now, with the first Test not yet under way and the second more than a week away, I'm keeping an eye on the Adelaide weather forecast.

The southerly wind looks set to hang around, which is good news for England. The evenings will not be hot and dry, they will be cooler, so the ball should swing.

I would be disappointed if England does not play well in Adelaide. I know that anything that helps Anderson, Broad and co will also help Australia's battery of fast bowlers, but I doubt the home batsmen will be too keen to face England's experienced pair in Adelaide.

If the conditions are right, Root's men could be dangerous under the lights.

England must build pressure

England's bowlers should be licking their lips at the prospect of that day-night Test, because they may not get a great deal of assistance during the rest of the series.

Clarke and Anderson exchange words at the Gabba Photo: James Anderson remains the jewel in England's bowling crown, but he needs support. (AAP: Dave Hunt)

For that reason, and because they are not blessed with Australia's express pace, the touring bowlers must be willing to be patient.

I'll be interested to see how Broad goes, because I thought he was down on pace during the summer. He bowled nicely to left-handers, taking the ball away, but his away-swinger to the right-handers wasn't there. I'd like to see that return.

Anderson will bowl tidily, using his accuracy and variations to extract what he can. I expect Chris Woakes, probably England's quickest bowler, to do well at the Gabba if he can find a full length.

For the majority of the time, England's best plan of attack is to try to bowl maidens, to frustrate the likes of Smith and David Warner, who like to see the scoreboard ticking over.

It is worth remembering that Australia's top order is just as unsettled as England's so the visiting bowlers have to make things as awkward as possible.

Root must impress on his bowlers the importance of building the pressure, with the rest of the team backing it up by holding the catches.

Go big in the first dig

In the three Tests that England won in their 2010-11 series victory, they made first-innings scores of 5-620 declared, 513 and 644.

Joe Root celebrates a ton in the 2013 Ashes Photo: Joe Root can't be the only one England relies on for big runs. He needs the entirety of the England's top seven to chip in. (Reuters: Kieran Doherty)

Cook said on Tuesday that very few sides come from behind to win Tests in Australia and he is correct. The message is simple — bat big, bat long.

When you watch England, there is nothing more frustrating than a player who looked set getting out by playing a stupid shot.

That sort of batting does not win series in Australia.

Show patience and discipline, knuckle down. No-one wants to be out fielding in 90-degree heat all day, so that is exactly what you must make the opposition do.

England's batsmen must show the maturity and sensibility to wear out the Aussies — and that cannot be left to Cook and Root. The rest of England's top seven must play their part.

I accept this is very easy to talk about and much harder to do in the middle, especially when the ball is fizzing past your nose, the crowd are making a huge din and the chat is coming from the slips.

But it is not only when batting that England will have to show great mental strength.

Block everything out

I played in the very first day-night one-day international to be held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1984. Frankly, it was terrifying.

There were 90,000 people there, all crazy with the excitement of wanting to see Australia win.

Alastair Cook marches back to the pavillion at the MCG Photo: Everything about a tour down under can get in your head, but England's players need to block it out if they're to enjoy any success in Australia. (AAP: Julian Smith)

I had never encountered anything like fielding on the boundary in front of a crowd like that. I bowled like a drain and we got thrashed. It was almost like having an out-of-body experience.

You can't really prepare yourself for it — you learn as you go. The advice that I would give to this current England crop would be to be completely and utterly in the zone.

When you're fielding it is a little easier, because there are 11 of you out there. When you run around between overs you can gee each other up, bowlers can talk to the fielder at mid-off, the wicketkeeper and slips keep each other going.

Batting is harder, because your mate is 22 yards away and you feel that the whole of Australia is against you.

The mentally tough are the players who will make it to the very top and they are the ones that find a way to succeed in these hostile environments.

But think of the prize, too.

Walking off one of these vast cricketing arenas with a century on the scoreboard, raising your bat as the Barmy Army sing your name.

Success in Australia writes a player into English cricketing folklore.

Jonathan Agnew will be bringing the English voice to Grandstand's commentary this cricketing summer. His preview was originally posted on the BBC's website and has been reproduced with permission.

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