| Flintoff: ‘Hope he gets fit quickly’
The holiday is over. I’ve had a great week, just driving around with the family, having a look at Perth, after flying out a week earlier than the other players. But everyone has arrived now and the real work starts here. All the boys are really excited about this tour. Gough even greeted me with a kiss last morning — not one of my more pleasant moments. I think he was just pleased to be back here.
Perth is a beautiful city, though I know that Atherton, being a historian, doesn’t like it because it doesn’t have much history, and it’s a bit out on its own. But when you’ve got a one and-a-half-year-old child and there’s another one due in a couple of months and you need a good hospital, modern will do just fine.
The locals have been pretty good to me. The Australians are a weird bunch — until the cricket starts they’re really friendly, saying ‘good luck’ all the time, but the moment the cricket begins they have a real go at you.
The Aussie press, though, can be as harsh as ours. I’m not naive — I know it’s only a matter of time before someone writes that we are the worst England team ever to arrive in Australia. Already one journalist has called us a bunch of second-rate athletes and suggested that the Waugh brothers would never have played cricket if they had grown up in England because the game is dying a death at home. So, the press battle has begun.
I’ve also read that Glenn McGrath has had a go at me — about a quote I never made. He reckons we are as good as beaten already because I said something negative like, “We’re hoping to compete in this series,” instead of “We’re going to thrash them.” I’ve certainly not said anything like that and I can assure you we will be giving it our best shot.
Everyone said it was mission impossible when we went to Sri Lanka, it was the same in Pakistan and it was mission impossible when we beat West Indies for the first time in 33 years. We showed them all we could do it and we’re here to show Australia, and every Australian watching us, that we can beat them as well — we wouldn’t have got off the plane if we didn’t think we could win.
I must say I find the whole slanging match before the series a bit sad. I don’t think you need all the sniping. You have to have a degree of respect. I think I learned that from Mark Taylor, the former Australian captain. You would never hear him bad-mouthing the opposition, and I’ve tried to do the same in my press conferences. My philosophy is to respect the opposition off the field and play it as tough as possible on it.
The main talking point here, however, is not the Ashes, it’s whether the Waugh twins should be dropped after their disappointing performances in the series against Pakistan. It’s a huge debate here, with people like Neil Harvey saying they have to go and others like Allan Border supporting them. Usually before an Ashes series the Australians are really tight-knit, so it’s amazing to find all these shenanigans about the Waughs, though generally I think most people are behind them.
I hardly watched any of that extraordinary Test last weekend when the Aussies bowled out Pakistan for 59 and 53. Luckily there’s no cricket on any of the channels in the hotel. But I did see a bit when I went round to my sister’s for a meal (she lives in Perth). I walked in and saw it was 40-odd for eight, so I asked her to turn over to Home and Away. You really don’t want to watch when the team you’re about to play have got the opposition at 40 for eight.
We had our first training and net session at the Waca on Saturday. The nets are incredible, and all our quick bowlers got very excited about the bounce. We just had a throw-down Saturday so everyone was anxious to see who would have to be in Jones and Harmison’s net on Sunday.
We had a run around the ground too, and we resembled an old age pensioners’ race, with five players hobbling with various ailments. But our medical experts assure us they’ll be fine for the first Test, with the exception of Flintoff, who is still struggling after his hernia operation.
I’m not that surprised that he has not fully recovered yet. I had a similar operation when I missed the Oval Test against Sri Lanka in 1998, and I remember thinking, “I’ll never be fit for the winter tour.” It’s in such an awkward area and you really feel it, but suddenly it all clicks and mends very quickly. I’m hoping that’s the case with Freddie.