There is a piece of received wisdom being repeated endlessly in these last few days before the merciful onset of play. It's a piece of received wisdom that suits a desperate-sounding Australia, and it deserves to be challenged.
It has just been restated by the wondrous Haydos, in that unique Haydos tongue: 'There is an enormous build-up and the heat is on you. You are at the coalface of competitive battle, you are under pressure... It will be play on at a venue which is really really tough for anyone who sits outside these boundaries'.
'There's been a lot made of England's preparation,' Ricky Ponting went on, 'but they don't play a match at the Gabba before the first Test'.
Ah, the old Gabba chestnut, the Gabbatoir etc etc. It's a strange one, because it's not the arena itself, which has lost much of its character to commerce in the last decade or so. I feel vaguely qualified to comment because I lived in Brisbane for three years at the time it was being reinvented - along with much of Brissie - from Queensland country town to thrusting contemporary cityscape.
It's now a vast, unshaded bowl, its major competitive disadvantage for visitors coming in the heat, which in November, the rainy season, builds throughout the day in boom and bust style until the frequent afternoon rains, and in the pitch, which holds demons when you bat against Aussie bowlers with the strength to whack it in and then becomes a road when they take guard. Neither are decisive as and of themselves.
What accompanies them is that fearsome record, but that has less to do with the ground than the opposition, seeing as how it coincides with the matchless Australian dynasty of the late twentieth century. It is a reputation compounded by a further conventional notion, that the first session is a kind of weird, witchy premonition of the months to come. The hope is that Slater's first-ball boundary, Nasser's toss and Harmi's wide linger in the English national psyche.
But the two Ashes series of recent memory won by England saw them start with a heavy defeat at Lord's in 2005, and a skin-of-the-teeth draw at Cardiff. Thus it's hard to extrapolate that Brisbane is vital, and even harder to conclude that the first couple of hours offer the key to the Ashes. More likely that it will be a slow-burn series that will go to the wire. England are more than used to starting badly.
England don't need to fear the Gabba, or defeat there. Neither are insurmountable.
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