England train in Australia for first time on Ashes tour
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It could not have done much for English spirits already damaged by the absence of Ben Stokes to find Mitchell Johnson prowling around the WACA outfield when they turned up here on Tuesday for their first practice of this Ashes tour.
But if Halloween was an appropriate time for the ghost of their Ashes horrors past to take part in some promotional work at his local ground then England did their utmost to convince the sceptical Australians they were not spooked.
Perhaps it was revealing that Johnson, thankfully now retired from international cricket, was friendliness personified as he greeted old acquaintances because England have arrived here somewhat under the radar.
England trained at the WACA in Perth on Tuesday on the first stop of their Ashes tour
It was a light training session for Joe Root’s team as they shook off the jet lag
Bowler Stuart Broad (right) is helped by coach Paul Collingwood as he warms up
Gary Ballance and Mark Stoneman play football during England’s first training session in Perth
England captain Joe Root prepares to take a catch during training in Perth on Tuesday
The ‘phoney’ battle has been restricted so far to David Warner calling the Ashes ‘war’ and his wife Candice labelling Stokes ‘disgusting’ while local media have written off the less recognisable figures in England’s squad.
It was left to one of those in James Vince to insist England could thrive without Stokes, still waiting to hear whether he will be charged by police for the Bristol rumpus, and with a still vulnerable looking batting line-up.
Vince was a surprising choice for this trip after being sent back to Hampshire last year with an average of 19 from his first seven Tests but is the hot favourite to walk out at No 3 in the first Test at the Gabba cauldron.
Now one of the most attractive strokemakers in domestic cricket must justify Trevor Bayliss’s hunch that his game is suited to Australian conditions and that he has overcome his fatal habit of nicking off far too readily to the slips.
England captain Joe Root practises his catching during the team’s first training session
Stuart Broad, wearing shades in the sunny weather of Perth, was in a happy mood
Ben Foakes (centre) stretches alongside his England team-mates ahead of their first match
England head coach Trevor Bayliss throws balls to plays as they practise their fielding
Ashes Tour 2017-18
4-5 Western Australia XI (Perth)
8-11 Cricket Australia XI (Adelaide, d/n)
15-18 Cricket Australia XI (Townsville)
23-27 First Test (Brisbane)
2-6 Second Test (Adelaide, d/n)
9-10 Cricket Australia XI (Perth)
14-18 Third Test (Perth)
26-30 Fourth Test (Melbourne)
4-8 Fifth Test (Sydney)
‘I think everyone gets caught in the slips in Test cricket at times but I want to be a bit more selective in the balls I’m trying to attack,’ said Vince, getting on to his customary front foot on day one.
‘Out here it could be that outside the off-stump is a good scoring opportunity for me if the ball’s not moving about. The drive not a shot I’m going to put away. I’ll just try to be a bit smarter in the times I use it and the balls I play it against.’
Vince, 26, admitted he was surprised at his Ashes call-up but England’s batting beggars cannot be choosers and they have now swapped one No 3 with flaws in Tom Westley for another with everything to prove.
‘It’s a second chance,’ said Vince. ‘I’ve had 12 months away from Test cricket and I was disappointed with how my career started. ‘But the Kookaburra ball generally does a bit less. There will be a bit of time when the new ball swings but from a batter’s point of view it’s a good place to come and hopefully my game is well suited to playing here. We’re here to win, that’s the bottom line.’
James Vince looks set to bat at No 3 for England after being given a ‘second chance’
Bowler Steven Finn loosens his muscles during the warm-up as England train at the WACA
Mason Crane works on his catching as Joe Root watches on during Tuesday’s training session
Chris Woakes on the ball as England enjoy their customary kickabout before training
One of the England players who knows how to win in Australia is Alastair Cook who led the way during a team meeting ahead of their departure to Perth, where they will kick off their tour against a Western Australian XI on Saturday.
‘We had a little chat before we came away and Cooky obviously has a lot of experience out here and is a world-class player,’ said Vince, who spent two winters in Perth grade cricket as a teenager.
‘He told us that if you do well in an Ashes series in Australia it counts for a hell of a lot because it is bigger than any other series. It’s a great opportunity for some guys to stand up and make a name for themselves. If you can do well here it can kick-start your career.’
England’s James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Jake Ball and Craig Overton run during training
Joe Root and James Vince jog as they go through their warm-up routine
Moeen Ali and James Anderson run during Tuesday’s training session at the WACA
England opener Alastair Cook was a cool customer in shades and baseball cap
James Vince stretches his arms as part of England’s warm-up in sunny Australia
But England’s hopes of avenging that Johnson-inspired 5-0 thrashing by Australia here last time is all the harder for the absence of Stokes. Vince, one of the absent vice-captain’s best friends in cricket, knows that only too well.
‘I don’t know the ins and outs of it but I just hope at some point he can get out here,’ said Vince. ‘I’ve only seen him once since the incident, at Jos Buttler’s wedding, and he seemed fine. You can imagine it’s been a tough couple of weeks for him. He’s one of the best players in our side. If we get him then great but if we don’t then hopefully we’ve got a team that can cope with the Aussies.’
At least, with Mitchell Johnson staying on the safe side of the WACA boundary, they won’t have to cope with their 2013-14 destroyer again.