STUART BROAD: We’re probably the worst prepared England team EVER to go to Australia

I have never been one to look at personal milestones, they don’t drive me, but I must admit that winning my 150th cap during Ashes cricket would be really nice.

An England cap with 150 on — it feels like an unbelievable number of matches to have been a part of given how physically demanding this form of the sport is, so if I get handed it at the Gabba on Wednesday or at Adelaide the following week, it is an achievement I will be proud of.

Of course, I want to be out there from the start, and fitness-wise I am good to go having recovered fully from the calf injury that kept me sidelined at the end of the summer, but selection is in other people’s hands and I think I’ll play in one of the two matches. It is going to be a tall ask for fast bowlers to go back to back here in the circumstances we find ourselves in.

England get their Ashes campaign underway on Wednesday at the Gabba in Brisbane 

As bowlers, we are going from minimal preparation to high intensity and that will provide a spike in our conditioning. Physically we are nowhere near ready for Test cricket, I don’t think any one of us on either side will be where we want to be just because of the virtually non-existent build-up to this series.

But in Covid times it is what it is and we have to ready ourselves as best we can. To be honest, we moved to the Gabba for practice on Sunday and suddenly the Ashes feels real. It hasn’t done while we’ve been warming up at club grounds.

Brisbane is a very hostile environment, home to a very partisan crowd but these are the kind of experiences that you want as a player.

If you’re not getting butterflies in your stomach, buzzing about the thought of playing in front of 50,000, you’re playing at the wrong level. If you’re not walking on to that field buzzing and excited, looking up at the stand, smiling, you’re playing the wrong game. It’s those sort of moments you should really embrace and love.

England have moved to Brisbane to prepare for the first Test after a disrupted preparation

England have moved to Brisbane to prepare for the first Test after a disrupted preparation 

It’s certainly nothing to fear for me. There’s no dread despite my personal history here. 

On a previous tour in 2013-14, one of the local papers here refused to refer to me by name, emphasising some of the hostility, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s not a personal attack, it’s just Australians enjoying a drink and a day at the cricket with their mates. Part of that is giving the English some stick along the way.

It actually gets my emotions to a place that I enjoy. I would much prefer to be at the Gabba in front of screaming Aussies than playing a pre-season game without a crowd.

Which, actually, is what the build-up has felt like. It has been really quiet. Normally, we would have played three first-class games by now and question marks would be emerging against the names of those without runs or wickets.

Places would be under scrutiny, cricket dominating the front and back pages but there’s been none of that. It’s almost as if we’re not here, which is unique for an Ashes tour.

But I reckon being under the radar is quite good for us. We’ve not built Brisbane up to be anything it’s not, not felt under huge pressure here. It’s positive that we’ve been able to do our preparation without too many distractions.

England have been playing inter-team matches in the absence of a regular Ashes build-up

England have been playing inter-team matches in the absence of a regular Ashes build-up

Now it is time to get our minds right. Wednesday will hit us like a train if we don’t get ourselves emotionally into the right place and every player will have different techniques to do that.

For me, I will work on the mental side of things in the next 72 hours. I’ll be watching a lot of footage on the Australians, how they get out, how wickets fall at the Gabba, building my emotional connection to the game.

Mentally at training, I will be putting myself under pressure to replicate that first day of the match.

It’s unrealistic to think that the 22 players who go out there for this first Test will do so in great form and in truth all of us will be finding our feet in one sense or other.

I saw Pat Cummins in the hotel lift the other day and he said he’s not had a full day in the field for 10 months. That’s a long time. It’s physically demanding and we are not going to be able to deliver unbelievable levels of skill for five days.

Players will make mistakes and that makes things harder for the batters than the bowlers, in my opinion. If I bowl a ball that goes for four, I get another go immediately. The chance is there to grow through the innings. But if a batter makes a mistake first ball, then they’re gone.

England's lack of readiness could lead to rustiness in the first Test and players must adjust

England’s lack of readiness could lead to rustiness in the first Test and players must adjust

My focus will be to hit an area relentlessly and ask questions of opponents, some of whom have come straight from playing at the Twenty20 World Cup and others who haven’t played a first-class innings for ages. It’s a tough ask of them to bat six hours.

Potentially, this could be the last Ashes that I play alongside Jimmy Anderson, but as we’ve both made clear we do not embrace any thoughts of retirement and with a home series in 2023, that is relatively uncertain.

I’ve come back from this calf injury hungry and I feel like something is building here. We can’t get away from the fact that we are probably the worst prepared England side to travel to Australia in the modern era: the rain has stuffed us out of sight, we have guys who have only faced eight balls in match conditions and bowlers who have only sent down 10 overs.

Conversely, mentally we could be the freshest England side that’s ever been here and we know Ashes cricket is a mental game.

Best when fresh 

My dad Chris sent me a funny text the other day, referring to the famous tour of 1986-87 and said he recognised a good omen. ‘You guys can’t bat, can’t bowl and can’t field,’ he said, before dropping the caveat that it was because of the rain!

It’s been such a random time. Chris Silverwood, our head coach, got out of quarantine just days ago, we’ve had lads come straight from playing white-ball in the UAE. Then again, we’ve prepared excellently on the previous two trips and lost 5-0 and 4-0. Best when fresh. That’s my new motto.

And I am looking forward to fresh battles with David Warner, although I am in no doubt that I will have to bowl differently here to how I did to him when I had one over on him in English conditions in 2019.

A new face-off with David Warner in imminent for England, after he was stopped on home soil

A new face-off with David Warner in imminent for England, after he was stopped on home soil

At home, I can bring the stumps into play by bowling a full length. In Australia, if you bowl that length you can leak a lot of runs so I will have to bowl slightly differently.

Of course, if he gets a hundred at the start of the series, it releases any pressure he might feel under but if he sticks one in the hands of slip early, all the question marks will re-emerge.

We are both performers who have been at this top level for a long time, and we look forward to playing against each other. You don’t stay at this level without looking forward to these type of challenges.

Azeem has put us all on notice

Cricket has been through an uncomfortable time as it has dealt with the issue of racism but when things are like this, you have to be able to find a way to come through and be better, so this is a great chance for the sport to grow, to feel more diverse and include people of every background. All should be welcome to play.

The England team cannot control how that is facilitated in club cricket but we can control how that feels in our own changing room. I feel that the environment that has been created over a long period of time by our leadership groups is pretty special.

Clearly, other players haven’t felt that at other levels of cricket and the awareness of that fact is really important. Every player who plays county cricket, every cricket fan who has been following this story will no doubt have huge amounts of empathy for anyone who has faced any form of discrimination.

Azeem Rafiq gave testimony to MPs on racism in cricket, serving a traumatic wake-up call

Azeem Rafiq gave testimony to MPs on racism in cricket, serving a traumatic wake-up call 

I am not aware of any racist incidents in my time as a professional but Azeem Rafiq made one really interesting observation during his testimony in front of MPs last month when he said, in relation to some of the alleged comments, that the words may not have meant anything to people at the time.

That hit me quite hard because it made me think whether I’ve been aware enough, whether I’ve just been drifting at times. I can honestly say this England team have been superb but I have to accept that I am a middle-aged white man who went to a public school. Are my ears close enough to the ground? They have to be from now on.

Out of something so uncomfortable, something good now has to happen. We have to learn how to make things different for the next generation but also for the generation that are playing at the moment. Can we make the game a better place for all? One hundred per cent, we can.

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