Australia have 'no excuses' in Ashes after excellent preparation, says Steve Waugh
Australia have not won an Ashes series in England since Steve Waugh's 2001 team triumphed 4-1
Last Updated: 23/07/19 4:54pm
Australia's hopes of a record-extending sixth World Cup title were wrecked by a rampant England in the semi-finals - but you get the sense that was their secondary target this summer.
Australia have won the World Cup four times in the last 20 years, yet they have triumphed in an away Ashes series just once in that time, way back in 2001 under the tutelage of Steve Waugh.
Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke each failed twice to lead their side to victory in England - Ponting in 2005 and 2009, Clarke in 2013 and 2015.
However, Waugh feels current captain Tim Paine, skipper since the ball-tampering scandal in March 2018, has a side well-equipped to break that 18-year duck - and that there can be "no excuses" if they falter again.
"They have had great preparation," Waugh told Sky Sports Cricket.
"The Australia A team have been over here, we have a lot of players and we have been using the Dukes ball in our domestic cricket for the last 12 months. No stone has been left unturned. There are no excuses
"We have a really good squad and it has actually been strengthened by the fact Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft haven't been there as it has presented opportunities to others.
"We have good depth and there is no reason we can't win. There are selection decisions to be made but we are not short of options."
Australia's XI for the first Test at Edgbaston could include Warner, Smith and Bancroft, the trio who were banned - for a year in Warner and Smith's case and nine months in Bancroft's - following the Newlands episode.
Warner and Smith are certain starters, while Bancroft has thrust himself back into contention following strong form in county cricket for Durham.
The opener will now be looking to press his claims in a four-day, intra-Australia friendly in Southampton from Tuesday, before Australia's Ashes squad is announced on Friday evening.
Waugh says Smith, Warner and Bancroft have returned to an Australia set-up "reset" after the ball-tampering affair, the aftermath of which included Darren Lehmann stepping down as head coach a year earlier than he had planned and being replaced by Justin Langer.
"Langer is a real father figure and has given the guys life perspective, while I think Paine has done an excellent job as leader," said the 54-year-old.
"Paine has found a balance between the Australian way of being positive and aggressive but not crossing that line. That was always going to be a challenge, and you can't please everyone."
I always liked to think our skills, hard work and execution were what made us the best team in the world. But, sure, we played hard and opposition sides didn’t like playing against us. That’s how I wanted them to feel.
Steve Waugh on his mindset as captain
Warner, seen as the architect of Sandpaper-gate, will never please everyone but Waugh says that does not bother the opener, who was booed frequently at the World Cup yet scored 647 runs, a tally only topped by India's Rohit Sharma, who managed one run more.
Smith had a much quieter World Cup, hitting 379 runs, but gorged during Australia's 4-0 Ashes win over England at home in 2017-18, amassing 687 runs in five Tests, including three centuries.
"Warner just loves playing cricket. He doesn't worry too much about negativity, it's all water off a duck's back for him, and he backs himself to perform," Waugh said of the batsman.
"He worked his way into World Cup form through the IPL, while his form in Test cricket [before his ban] was pretty good. To have him and Smith back is a huge boost.
"Smith is also a proven Test performer - he has one of the best records in the game, averaging 61.
"You can't really analyse his form but he is a big-match player, who lifts his game under pressure. He embraces being the man looked at to score runs and I think that will happen again."
Jason Roy proved he was a big-match player during the World Cup, with his timely return from a hamstring injury helping England go from the verge of a group-stage exit to champions - his belligerent knocks including 85 from 65 balls in an eight-wicket rout of Australia at Edgbaston in the semi-finals.
Roy should now be back at Edgbaston next week, opening the batting in the Ashes.
"I haven't seen enough of Roy to comment too much - I don't know how tight his technique is if the ball is moving - but I guess he could be like Warner," said Waugh.
"He has freedom in one-day cricket with restrictions in the field and the mind-set is different. He has the talent to do well but does he have the mental toughness to do well?
"We'll find that out but, if you are picking purely on talent, he deserves to play."
England have a pretty well-balanced team but I think Jofra Archer will be the x-factor. No one likes playing quality fast bowling.
Steve Waugh on England
Waugh will also have a role to play in the Ashes having been announced as a mentor for the Australia team.
"I had a similar role with the Australian Olympic team in Beijing and London. It's more of an observer role. Looking and seeing what is going on, a newer perspective," he added.
"I am there to listen and see what the players need. If I can give them a roadmap or a shortcut to success or make them feel confident or comfortable [that's what I'll be looking to do].
"I have seen everything in my 20 years as an Australia player, from being down and out and losing, to being No 1 batsman in the world and the team being No 1 in the world.
"I have seen it from all sides and been through every issue that crops up.
"I will be telling the players to enjoy the experience. You can take it for granted that you are playing in an Ashes series but it is special and very few have the privilege to experience it.
"Enjoy your experience and trust your skills."
Watch the Ashes live and exclusive on Sky Sports Cricket from 10am on Thursday, August 1.