From brutal Bavarian boot camps to soul-destroying stakeouts in Staffordshire, pre-tour preparations can take many forms, writes James Wallace in Issue 31 of the Wisden Cricket Monthly.
England in Bavaria
Andy Flower should never be allowed near a stag-do organising WhatsApp group. He cooked up a plan to toughen up the England squad before the 2010/11 Ashes series with a long weekend in Bavaria, in October, with members of the Australian police force implementing a sort of post-apocalyptic military regime. Cue scenes of Steven Finn lifting bricks in driving sleet and James Anderson and Chris Tremlett knocking 10 bells out of each other while being observed by a circle of unshaven and grim-faced cricketers. The whole thing had more than a whiff of Deliverance crossed with Guy Ritchie’s Snatch, but, crucially, it worked. England won their first series in Australia since ’87 and Andrew Strauss credited the excursion with bonding the team, even if Graeme Swann decried it as: “The worst four days of my life.” Still, 3-1 to England.
Warne in the Bush
Shane Warne was not a fan of ex-Australia coach John Buchanan. Never was this plainer to see than during the ‘bush boot camp’ that was enforced before the 2006/07 Ashes. Legend has it that Warne chose to forego fresh underwear in order to fit his cigarette supply into his rucksack. The images of Warne in camo fatigues yomping through the searing outback with only Shane Watson and a jerry can of water for company are the personification of ‘pissed off’. Still, the Aussies bagged a 5-0 series whitewash suggesting that Warne’s sacrifice was worth it, England being the team that were well and truly on the skids.
In 2016, Misbah-ul-Haq became, at the age of 42, the oldest player to score a century at Lord’s since Jack Hobbs in 1926. After compiling his ton he dropped to the turf to pump out 10 press-ups in homage to the “army guys” in Abbottabad who had put his team through their paces before the tour of England. Pakistan won the game, their first win at Lord’s in 20 years, and Misbah’s men marked their victory with a synchronised five-press-up salute on the outfield. Pakistan flexed their cricketing muscles all summer and a see-sawing series was tied two Tests apiece.
Happy birthday, @captainmisbahpk 🎉
Is this your favourite Misbah knock?pic.twitter.com/xANCETQV5M
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) May 28, 2020
Spy games in Stafford
The England squad found themselves in the West Midlands playing at being sleuths over three confusing days of surveillance and role-play ahead of the ill-fated 2013/14 Ashes tour. Baffled bowlers camped out under hedgerows twiddling knobs on recording devices and batsmen spent hours in unmarked estate cars staking out out-of-work actors in supermarket carparks. Boyd Rankin remarked: “We were told to blend in with our environments, so it probably didn’t help that I’m 6ft 8in.” There was no Union Jack parachute to rescue England as they were pummeled by Mitchell Johnson’s 95mph ‘Thunderballs’. They lost the Ashes 5-0, the whole campaign characterised by the way it began, in Clouseau-esque farce.
Not King Cole!
Trips to Flanders or Gallipoli serve to instill players with a sense of history and gratitude – whatever happens on or off the field in the ensuing weeks, cricket isn’t a matter of life and death. The exception to this being the Aboriginal tour of England − to channel Steve Coogan’s swimming pool attendant in The Day Today, “In 1868, someone died”. Back then, the pre-tour bootcamp existed in the form of weeks-on-end boat travel which took a significant physical toll on some players. Bripumyarramin, also known as King Cole, was suffering from a bad cold but was forced to play at Lord’s against the MCC. This didn’t help his recovery and he tragically died days later. Graham Swann hasn’t had a worse day than that, and he was once voted off Strictly looking like a sad sunburnt child in a sailor suit.
Justin Langer’s ‘touchy-feely’ Aussies strolled around the Edgbaston outfield in bare feet as they got their ‘Gwyneth’ on before last summer’s World Cup semi-final against England. The practice, called ‘earthing’, is a far cry from David Boon’s ‘52 beers high club’ or Steve Waugh’s “mental disintegration”. It didn’t work, England stubbed out the Aussie campaign with a decisive victory. A hippy at heart, Langer has said, “One month every year I like to grow a beard and not wear shoes”, which, to be fair, sounds very familiar right now.
First published in Issue 31 of Wisden Cricket Monthly