It was David Warner who first called the courage of England’s batsmen into question, declaring the tourists had been playing with ‘scared eyes’ as Mitchell Johnson and the Australian pacemen ran amok in Brisbane.
Since then the idea has snowballed, with hardly an article written that fails to mention how jittery the Englishmen have looked when confronted with Johnson’s 150km per hour thunderbolts.
But should the courage of England’s batsmen be up for discussion? As someone who would be intimidated by the speed of spinner Nathan Lyon, I have respect for anyone who walks out to face a fast bowler armed with only a strip of willow.
Kim Hughes, who faced the incredible West Indies pace batteries of the 1970s and 80s – starring Andy Roberts, Joel Garner and, most dangerous of all, Michael Holding – says fear is natural when confronted with express pace.
“If anybody ever says to you that they were never scared of fast bowling, you know a couple of things – they’re either bullshitting, or they’ve never faced quick bowling,” Hughes tells The New Daily.
“The word ‘scared’ is not right. I don’t mean you’re running away, it’s just that little fellow inside your mind that thinks ‘Jesus, I need to be up the other end’.”
Similarly, former Australian number three Graham Yallop acknowledges an element of fear is normal.
“The fear that you get, for me, was the fear of being hit in the head, because we didn’t have helmets when I first started,” Yallop says.
“I was always going to avoid the short ball if it was aiming for my head.”
Both Hughes and Yallop nominate Holding as the most intimidating bowler they have faced.
“Michael Holding was beautiful to watch – if you didn’t have a bat in your hand,” Hughes says.
“He was a Rolls Royce, he was called Whispering Death.
“In the West Indies you have these big concrete sightscreens, and when the umpire would ask you ‘how’s the sightscreen?’ when you’d first come in you thought ‘is there any chance you could put it between him and me’.”
Yallop agrees, and says Holding’s speed combined with accuracy made him deadly.
“Michael Holding was by far the quickest I faced, he was approaching the 160km/h mark consistently,” Yallop says.
“Holding was the one we were really concerned with.”
Despite the problems England have had with Johnson, both Hughes and Yallop are adamant the tourists can get accustomed to the speed with hard work.
“Certainly Mitchell Johnson’s bowling with some real pace, he’d be the quickest bowler in the world at the moment I would have thought,” Hughes says.
“At the end of the day you need two things – attitude and footwork. You need that real mental toughness to really get in there and say ‘this is Test cricket and I’ve got to guts it out and take a few, get up the other end’.
“Joe Root showed that if you can get back and across, you can deal with it. (Ian) Bell usually looks accomplished.
“That’s the challenge in Perth – unless you’ve got a very good back foot technique, you will be exposed.
“If you prop on the crease, if you push forward and don’t go back, it’s just an accident waiting to happen.”
Yallop echoes Hughes’ sentiments, and says England need the right application to overcome their deficiencies against Johnson.
“You really make sure you have to train with some very fast bowlers, or you get a bowling machine,” he says.
“We got bowling machines that you crank right up.
“You do get acclimatised to pace, but it’s the different bounce, the swing.”
Hughes feels the lack of express pace bowlers around the world could be contributing to England’s unease when confronted by Johnson.
“Some of them do (look lost). You’ve got (Dale) Steyn in South Africa, he’s quickish,” Hughes says.
“(But) certainly there’s no Shoaib Akhtar, no Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis. They were quick.”