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Why England must invoke spirit of 2005 to have any hope of reviving Ashes bid


By Jonathan Liew

Depending on your disposition, here is a fact that will either enthuse or dispirit you. The last team to come from behind to win an Ashes series? Michael Vaughan's generation-defining side of 2005.

In each of the last six encounters, the team to have drawn first blood has lifted the urn. That is the size and shape of the task confronting England as they arrive in Adelaide attempting to overturn a 1-0 deficit: it can be done, but you had better be as good as the 2005 side.

Shall we indulge ourselves for a moment? Oh, go on then. Apart from the location, the parallels between this England side and their predecessors of 12 years ago are uncanny. Two left-handed openers - one experienced, one new. A talismanic Yorkshireman as captain, whose inspirational leadership compensates for not quite hitting his best form with the bat. An aesthetically-pleasing right-handed batsman with a sumptuous cover drive and a questionable temperament.

A short-form specialist with a South African schooling at No.5. An aggressive, momentum-shifting keeper. A limited but effective finger spinner. A three-man pace attack consisting of a swing master, a tall seamer and an old-ball specialist. Both lost the first Test by a heavy margin that disguised a competitive encounter. And in both cases, Paul Collingwood is still their best fielder.

It all seems hopelessly fanciful, of course. Happily for England fans, the current lot seem up for the challenge. Chris Woakes was at Edgbaston in 2005, a Warwickshire academy player who actually helped the groundstaff put the covers on after rain stopped play. He remembers the way England thrillingly counter-attacked on the first day of that Test, and now, with bat and ball in his hands, he wants to inspire a similar fightback.

"At the start of that series, when England were 1-0 down, everyone was writing them off," he said. "We're in a similar position where we have to come back and hit the Aussies and show we're up for a fight. Which I know, as a team, we are. A lot of people have written us off and it's up to us to prove them wrong. The first hour at Adelaide is going to be crucial."

Yet if we are drawing parallels with 2005, there is one big difference: the fate of the burly, six-hitting, reverse-swinging all-rounder. While four days at Edgbaston were enough for Andrew Flintoff to write his name into English sporting folklore, Ben Stokes landed at Christchurch Airport yesterday claiming he intended to "work on his golf swing".

England's 10-wicket defeat in Brisbane did nothing to extinguish the notion that Stokes' altercation outside a Bristol nightclub may yet prove the decisive blow of the 2017-18 Ashes.

But with Stokes now a step closer to the series - geographically, if nothing else - Woakes made it clear that England were itching to have him back.

"We would welcome him with open arms," he said. "We're all friends with Ben as well as team-mates. The fact it is still under investigation means it doesn't change a huge amount. But if he was to be available, and the ECB called him up at any point, it would be a huge positive for us.

"I haven't spoken to him since three or four weeks ago at the start of the trip," Woakes admitted. "Just general chit-chat. He was asking how I was, how things are, wishing us luck, go well and hopefully see you at some point. That was it. I'm sure he is gutted. I'm sure he is desperate to be a part of it."

In order for the return of Stokes to have the desired effect, England need to make sure the series is not lost by the time he arrives. And so they arrived in Adelaide eager to right the wrongs of Brisbane, to prove the three-day dogfight at the start of that game was a better reflection of their abilities than the two-day massacre that ended it.

The consensus before the series was that Adelaide, with its lateral movement and opportunities offered to seam bowlers with the pink ball under lights, represents England's best chance of winning a Test. They excelled in their only previous pink-ball excursion, demolishing the West Indies at Edgbaston in August by an innings and 209 runs. Now, though, the pressure - and the stakes - are at their highest.

"Nobody has played a huge amount of pink-ball cricket," Woakes admitted. "Every game has thrown up something really different. The fact the ball might move around might suit our strengths. The pink Duke felt more plasticky, whereas the pink Kookaburra feels the same as a red Kookaburra. It doesn't necessarily shine too well, but it does move a little bit."

Australia coach Darren Lehmann has promised England a stern test on a surface he described as the quickest in the country. When the ball skids around under lights, batting can become nigh-on impossible. And there is the bouncer factor that Australia's pace attack used in Brisbane, blasting out England's tail to the tune of six wickets for 56 in the first innings and four for 10 in the second.

As the fulcrum of the lower order, Woakes has a bigger responsibility than most. He dealt with the short ball reasonably well in Brisbane, hanging around for an hour in the second innings.

"I feel as comfortable as you can be," he said. "You want some on the front foot, but you are not always going to get that, particularly in Australia. You have to score runs, not just survive."

Woakes is fast becoming one of England's most impressive performers with the microphone as well as with bat and ball, and this was another assured display: defiant but not combative, articulate and unafraid to tackle raw subjects like Stokes or the surreal controversy surrounding Jonny Bairstow and Cameron Bancroft earlier in the week.

The latter incident has earned this England squad a midnight curfew, although Woakes claimed he was "not a huge drinker, so it doesn't really affect me".

Above all, this is an England side ready to set aside childish things, to float above the rising tide of background nonsense and start changing some minds. The only way to do that, Woakes admitted, is "by winning games of cricket, putting in strong performances, taking it to the Aussies, trying to get the English media and the English public onside".

And so, one final 2005 parallel. Ahead of that series, Australia's captain Ricky Ponting summed up his team's strategy. "Win the first Test, and let the English media do the rest," he said. You rather suspect it is the same strategy Steve Smith is adopting here. Whether it backfires on him in the same way, time alone will tell.

Belfast Telegraph

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