Diary from Down Under – Dispatch 1

Tuesday finally felt like day one of the Ashes build-up in Melbourne.

Yesterday we had the ‘race that stops the nation’, The Melbourne Cup, and not a soul was chatting cricket.

But, as temperatures topped 30 degrees for the first time this summer, the Australian ODI frenzy in India over, the second round of Shield matches underway and England piling on the runs against Australia A in Hobart, it has felt like the battle for the Urn is back on, just 70 days since those oldest of enemies were last contesting it.

I’ve been in Melbourne since last Tuesday and the city’s passion for the game is visible everywhere. There are Ovals on every corner and the detection of my Pom accent has, without fail, led to heated discussions about the game, much to my amusement.

Ten weeks on, Darren Lehmann’s encouragement of the Australian fans to get on Stuart Broad’s back has certainly not fallen on deaf ears.

Every discussion I have had about the England team has led to Broad being labelled a ‘cheat’ or a ‘coward’ and it appears that ‘the man who didn’t walk’ is about as welcome here as a warm beer. Broady can expect a hostile reception at the Gabba on November 21.

Malcolm Conn and Shane Warne, Pom-bashers in chief, have also worked their magic on the Aussie public. Conn is the Aussie journo who broke the news of the ‘Slashes’ incident at the Oval and described England’s squad as ‘more UN than UK’.

My conversations about England’s squad have invariably turned from ‘that new Kiwi and the chunky Zimbabwean lad of yours’ (Ben Stokes and Gary Balance for those confused) through ‘Cookie’s a terrible captain’ to the inevitable question: ‘are any of your boys actually English?’ (Just don’t mention Fawad Ahmed!)

Away from vehemently defending Cookie’s lads from the Aussie onslaught, I’ve been excitedly arranging my trips to Brisbane and Adelaide, and getting to know this fantastic city. Yesterday I felt a little giddy as I laid eyes on the gargantuan MCG for the first time, and on Friday I’m heading inside to watch Victoria’s Sheffield Shield clash with New South Wales.

Finally, to the only thing that actually matters, the action on the field. It was an absolute pleasure to watch Carberry and Cook rack up the runs today in Hobart.

Both looked superb, even if the bowling, Trent Copeland excepted, was as flat as the Bellerive Oval track.

The Aussies are not in bad shape either though, and most of their likely line-up in Brisbane have performed productively either in Shield cricket or in India.

George Bailey is the name on everyone’s lips and they appear to have a competition for places that they didn’t possess in England three months ago.

Australia expects and Australia is hungry, and with both sides looking in good shape, I think we can look forward to a closer contest than we saw back home this summer!

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