The Cricketer
Huw Turbervill Huw Turbervill

THE GOOGLY: IS FLINTOFF DOING A McGRATH?

Upbeat Ashes talk in marked contrast to Southgate’s pessimism

Glenn McGrath’s 5-0 predictions are the stuff of Ashes legend. Gimlet-eyed, deadly serious, he could never see beyond an Australian whitewash. In the ones he played in the score was 3-1 (1994/95), 3-2 (1997), 3-1 (1998/99), 4-1 (2001), 4-1 (2002/03) and then, unforgettably, 2-1 to England (2005). In his last Test series (2006/07) Australia finally did win 5-0!

Since the Ben Stokes story broke, there has been an air of pessimism about England’s prospects this winter. He is such a pivotal player for England, and he has performed well before in an Ashes series down under, and he like standing up to the Aussies, so it’s not difficult to understand why there has been doom and gloom.

A couple of things have redressed this slightly in recent days, however. One was the news that James Pattinson has been ruled out (I say that without irony as the Ashes is all about having the best XIs on the field, and he was fantastic for Nottinghamshire this summer). The other was we at The Cricketer coming up with composite XIs for the two sides, and realising that England really do have as many fine players as the hosts (although they have a pacier attack and home conditions will, of course, play a huge part).

The final thing was reading the comments of Andrew Flintoff. When I first read his views I wondered if he was “doing a McGrath”. He said this was “the best team we've ever had". "It's not a case of England winning, it's by how many," he told the BBC. "It's the type of side you'd want to be involved in, from the coach and the captain down. We've got Jimmy Anderson, who is England's best ever bowler; Alastair Cook, England's best ever batter. And you throw in the likes of Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow, who is fantastic – it's exciting times."

When he talks about Anderson and Cook as England’s best, he seems to be excluding players who appeared before the start of the 21st century, but never mind… it strikes me that a bit of optimism never goes amiss.

The comments were in stark contrast to BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew, who said it "one of the weakest squads I've seen".

What is the best approach – talk up your chances, or dampen expectations: to under-promise and over-deliver? I am no expert on poker, but is there an element of that to all this?

Flintoff’s comments are in marked contrast to England football manager Gareth Southgate. “They don’t have Champions League-winning medals throughout this group, they don’t have league-winning medals… they are a work in progress, but they give everything they have for the shirt and they are going to improve over the next few years. Are we going to become Spain in the next eight months? No we’re not.”

In other words, England have little chance of triumphing in Russia next summer. Of course, he is right, but should he say it? Joe Root would surely not prophesise such an outcome down under this winter. It is called playing the game.