England may have three Tests against the West Indies before they travel to Australia this winter but a team that is likely to include six Ashes virgins will be made fully aware of the hostility that will come their way when they travel Down Under.
Of the XI that is likely to take the field when the Ashes gets underway in Brisbane on November 23, only five are likely to have experienced a tour of Australia before – captain Joe Root, Alastair Cook, Ben Stokes, Stuart Broad and James Anderson.
Preparations this week will focus on England’s first-ever day-night Test match at Edgbaston starting on Thursday and Root will expect his players to follow up the 3-1 series victory against South Africa by extending that winning run against the West Indies ahead of the Ashes.
However, Root, whose only experience of an Ashes tour was the painful 5-0 whitewash in 2013-14, is fully aware that arriving in Australia with confidence will only get you so far.
“My first Ashes tour, a lot of the side was similar to the one which went and won there in 2010/11,” said Root. “They all said it was an amazing tour, they had a great time. It was tough cricket but a brilliant tour.
“My experience was different, it was very hostile – quite aggressive at times on and off the field. Especially off the field, in fact. The crowd give you a hard time and the guys are fully aware that’s the case. I think that’s probably what made it so enjoyable for the guys who went there and won.
“You do get a hard time but when you win it’s that bit more enjoyable. Our challenge is to experience that and not let it faze us and hopefully come back with that little urn.”
To that end, Root will ensure those players who will be experiencing their first Ashes tour will be warned of what is likely to come their way from a hostile Australian public. “I think it’s important to,” he said. “You don’t want to go out there and it just hit you like a train. You want to make sure you’re fully aware of what’s coming your way.
“Last time there were a few chants from the crowd that were quite personal at times. Quite offensive. I was slightly surprised. I thought they might give us a bit of banter but it was a bit more than that.
“At Brisbane, a beach ball came on the field and they wanted me to throw it back. Someone said something a bit rude so I just chucked it to the steward, who popped it. For the rest of that day it carried on with not very nice words.
“It wasn’t very family friendly. I think they see it as humour and if you respond well to it you have the opportunity to win them over.
“The thing to remember, even if it doesn’t seem it at the time, is it’s generally in good spirit and they’re just trying to create an atmosphere for their side.
“They’re so passionate about cricket and desperate to win. When you get a full house and it’s rocking and the crowd are involved it makes a very entertaining spectacle to watch and also to play in.
“It’s great if you can go out there with everyone against you and put in a match-winning performance. That’s one of the greatest things in professional sport, to come over those difficult periods and prove your worth. It’s important as a side we look at it as an opportunity.”
Stuart Broad bore the brunt of Australian bile on that 2013-14 tour, the fast bowler’s refusal to walk during the first Ashes Test at Trent Bridge during the previous English summer making him public enemy No1.
Root, though, insists as captain he is happy to take over the role of villain this winter.
“Stuart going back there might take a little bit of heat off me,” he said. “We all like a pantomime villain so it will be interesting to see who they target ahead of that tour. It just adds to the whole occasion. Certain characters like Stuart thrive on that, so hopefully they pick a good villain who enjoys it and it works to our advantage.
“You can’t choose who they pick on but it’s a challenge Test cricket throws up on occasion. If you’re going to survive in it you have to find a way to deal with it.”
As for this week’s challenge of the first pink-ball Test match in the UK, Root is aware it may put his fledgling captaincy under the microscope.
“I think it’s important to go in with an open mind and not have too many preconceived ideas how the pink ball might react,” he said.
“If it starts to swing, you’ve guys like Jimmy and Broad swinging it round corners, you might want to be a bit more aggressive. If it’s not performing like that, you might have a change of plan. That’s why you don’t want to go in with too many plans made ahead of time.”