Joe Root wonders if his old chum Nathan Lyon was following team orders when he fanned the flames with his pre-Ashes rant.
Lyon, who played club cricket with Root on an early overseas trip to Adelaide for the Yorkshireman when both were just young hopefuls, has made a series of incendiary claims about England’s Ashes campaigns past and present.
Asked if Australia are out to end some careers against their current opponents, as fast bowler Mitchell Johnson helped to four years ago, Lyon replied that he hoped so – adding it would be “good to get (Root) dropped again”, as he was for the final Test in 2013/14.
The England captain, who leads his side into battle in the first Test in Brisbane at midnight UK time on Wednesday, was responding to an interview in which off-spinner Lyon also recalled England’s wicketkeeper Matt Prior wanted to go home mid-series on the last trip because he was “scared”.
“It is a bit bizarre,” said Root, who has a suspicion Lyon may have been specifically deployed by the hosts to ramp up the pre-match ‘sledging’. He added: “I think you can sort of see through it a little as well.
“Whether that’s come from him or it’s maybe a team strategy – or he’s just taken it upon himself to do that – who knows?”
None of that uncertainty stopped Root having a slightly more subtle poke back at Lyon, who was a late starter in international cricket but has gone on to be perhaps Australia’s best ever off-spinner.
“I played club cricket with him in Prospect, and at the time we weren’t sure who was the first spinner ... he has obviously come a long way since then!” he said, noting – as others have – that Lyon may have invited some extra attention on his own performance.
“The more guys talk going into a series, the more they put pressure on themselves,” added Root, who believes that constant reference here to England’s defeat in 2013/14 is slightly hollow.
Australia have since lost the Ashes in England, so to an extent are on a recovery mission themselves.
“You hear a lot about these ‘scars’, but it’s a series which happened four years ago.
“We’ve won four of the last five Ashes.
“I don’t know whether they are just trying to brush that under the carpet or what, but for me it’s completely irrelevant what happened four years ago.”
Root acknowledges nonetheless that England face no easy task, starting at Australia’s famous first-Test fortress in Brisbane – where the crowd is always hostile, and the home team has not lost to them for 31 years.
“The atmosphere is something that, if you haven’t experienced (it before) is very different,” said Yorkshire’s Root, well aware his prior knowledge can help him ready some of England’s novice explorers for what lies ahead.
“It is like being in India first time ...
“You want to try and make sure they are prepared and know what to expect.
“It will be quite hostile and potentially slightly intimidating, but it shouldn’t scare you.
“That is part of Ashes cricket. It should excite you, (because) you have a chance to do something that not many people do.”