LONDON (Reuters) - If one English ground was designed to test the backbone of the Australian cricket team it is ‘fortress Edgbaston’ where the visitors will be offered a red-hot welcome on Thursday.
Raucous Edgbaston is about as far removed from the refined surrounds of Lord’s as it can get — especially the notorious Eric Hollies stand, the spiritual home of England’s vociferous Barmy Army.
Australian batsman David Warner, Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft will be assured of some ‘special treatment’ as they return to the test fold after their parts in the sandpaper-gate scandal which resulted in bans.
“The one thing that really stands out for Edgbaston is that it can get very loud, very raucous,” Ian Bell, whose home ground is Edgbaston and who played in seven Ashes series, told the Daily Telegraph. “Out of all the grounds that we have, Edgbaston can be quite an intimidating atmosphere for away teams.
“Having spoken to some of the Aussies in the past, that it is the one ground that they seem to cop it a little bit more in terms of abuse from the boundary.
“It makes it very intimidating for them but brilliant for England.”
While Edgbaston’s conditions are tailor-made for England’s swing bowlers, the bearpit atmosphere is perhaps just as an important factor why Australia have not won an Ashes test there since 2001 and why England are unbeaten in their last 11 matches in the leafy part of Birmingham.
Chris Millard, managing director of the Barmy Army, believes they are like a 12th man.
“Anything we can do to help the England team succeed, that’s our duty really,” he said, although he does not condone the ritual booing of Warner and Smith during the World Cup.
“We never try to step over the line,” he said. “We think we can be witty and funny without that. It’s always about supporting the England team and if we can get under the nerves of the Aussies then we sure will.”
Their current favourite song, directed at Australian opener Warner is one sung to the tune of Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ and which goes:
“He still needs some education
He still needs some self control
No gold sandpaper in his pocket
Warner, leave those balls alone
Hey, Warner, leave those balls alone
All in all he’s just another cheat like them all...”
Warner is unlikely to flinch and it could actually drive him on to ram the words down the throats of his tormentors.
Former England spinner Graeme Swann believes he will not be sledged over the ball-tampering scandal by England’s players.
“Listen to the crowd and the singing which will be aimed at Steve Smith and David Warner, it will be raucous, but actually I predict the players in the middle will barely say a word,” Swann, an ambassador for Betfair, said on Wednesday.
“Warner is a key wicket but his record is very poor in the Ashes in England. There really isn’t a lot of chirp in international cricket — no matter what people like to think — but if I was bowling, I might whisper his average in this country to him every now and then.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty