Nathan Lyon was the first Australian to enter the nets two days before the first Test. He entered with intent, wearing his headgear as usual for a practice session. He was accompanied by Matt Renshaw and Josh Inglis, and he wasted no time providing them with specific instructions.
He began by informing them of the virtual playing field that had been created for them. Three males patrol the perimeter of the square, two on the leg-side and one on the off-side. Then, Lyon requested that Renshaw and Inglis play as many ostentatious and ultra-aggressive shots as they could against him. He wanted them to attempt reverse-sweeps, switch-hits, slogs against the turn for the left-hander, inside-out scoops for the right-hander, and any other form of improvisation they could devise.
Renshaw and Inglis fulfilled the preeminent off-spinner’s requests for nearly a half-hour. The two aggressive batters made contact the majority of the time, but it was Lyon who had the last chuckle as he consistently prevailed over them. When he wasn’t bowling Renshaw cleanly as he attempted to hit him over mid-wicket, he had Inglis edging sharply spinning off-breaks. There were additional directions. More attempts were made by the reserves to defeat Lyon. There were additional instances of the veteran spinner’s success.
This was Lyon’s preparation for what Harry Brook had said at the press conference a few minutes earlier. The youthful dynamo had expressed his desire to pursue and target Australia’s ace. By practicing the assault, Lyon was attempting to remain one step ahead of him and the rest of the English batsmen.
It may have been the least subtle tactic employed by the Australians in preparation for the unique challenge of confronting the English juggernaut in what has been appropriately dubbed as the most anticipated Ashes of this century. When they arrive at Edgbaston for the opening day of the Ashes, Pat Cummins and company will be diving into the unfamiliar and the unexpected as they attempt to win their first series here in 22 years. Almost to the point where it feels like a confrontation of cultures. While Ben Stokes and England have made it abundantly obvious that they intend to adhere to their aggressive style of Test cricket, Australia has been adamant that they will not abandon their own strategy of playing the long game.
In the meantime, both teams have been very confident in their ability to play independently of how the other team intends to play, which lends even more intrigue to the contest’s outcome.
England vs Australia, The Ashes, 1st Test, June 16-20, 2023, 11.00 hrs Local Time, 20:00 hrs AEST, 15:30 hrs IST