Trevor Bayliss was given a taste of what to expect as an Australian in the unique position of coaching England as soon as he began preparing for his first Ashes Test.
‘It was funny,’ says the man from the old enemy’s camp who earned both Ashes and, spectacularly, World Cup success during a productive five-year spell as England coach.
‘I had never been involved in an Ashes before and so much of it is about the build-up to that first day of the series. You can feel the expectation. You can almost smell the atmosphere and tension in the air.
Trevor Bayliss (pictured) enjoyed a highly productive five-year spell as England coach
Bayliss (right) was recruited by the then England team director Andrew Strauss (left)
‘Then before my very first Test with England down in Cardiff, Brad Haddin and Nathan Lyon walked straight past me without saying anything. These were two blokes I’d spent a lot of time with. I thought, ”Oh I get it. No talking to TB during the Ashes.”
‘But within half an hour they were chatting away as if it were six months earlier. We had a laugh about it. There was a lot of smirking at each other at first but there were never any problems.
‘There were nine or 10 New South Wales boys in that Australia squad in 2015 and I’d been coaching them only a few months before. I understood they were doing everything they could to win for their team, and they understood I was doing everything I could for the team I was coaching. It didn’t detract from the fact we were still mates.’
It is a story that sums up the attitude of the 58-year-old Bayliss, a coach recruited by the then England team director Andrew Strauss because of his calm, common-sense approach to the game and a man steeped in cricketing knowledge and know-how.
But there is no doubt Bayliss was thrown into unchartered territory when, with English cricket at a particularly low ebb following the debacle of the 2015 World Cup, his first assignment pitted him against the land of his birth in the biggest series of them all.
‘The way I looked at it when I was with England was the same as when I grew up loving cricket,’ Bayliss tells Sportsmail from his home an hour outside Sydney.
‘We played so much back yard stuff as kids virtually every day throughout the summer and it was dog-eat-dog between your mates and brothers.
‘It was four runs if you hit the chook shed and two into the garage, that type of thing. It was highly competitive and there were more than a few arguments but when it was over, we used to run down the river for a swim as best of mates. I likened playing with England against Australia to that. We all played hard but we were still friends afterwards.’
Even when Bayliss coached England to a 3-2 success in that Ashes six years ago to get his spell in charge off to the perfect start.
He won the Ashes (with Paul Farbrace, right) and the World Cup during his spell as coach
‘I still find myself saying ”we” when I talk about England every now and then,’ he smiles. ‘I have to correct myself.
‘The moving ball played into our — I mean England’s — hands that year. The wickets were a bit green and from memory, there was a lot of cloud cover. It was doing a fair bit in those conditions and the England bowlers were able to take advantage of that.’
None more so than when Stuart Broad, barely believably, took 8 for 15 in one of the great Ashes spells in what became the deciding match at Trent Bridge to skittle Australia for 60.
‘It was certainly a dream start to win the Ashes,’ says Bayliss.
‘I remember sitting next to Paul Farbrace (his assistant) when Broady was going through that spell. I pinched Farby on the leg to make sure we weren’t dreaming! And Joe Root’s hundred that same day doesn’t get talked about often enough. That was one hell of a dig.
Bayliss admits he had to make sure he wasn’t dreaming during Stuart Broad’s great spell at Trent Bridge in 2015
‘It’s great to sit back as a coach at the end of a match and see the boys enjoying themselves with smiles on their faces. That’s what I remember most from that game in Nottingham. You have to enjoy the good times, and that win was certainly a good time.’
Not so good was Bayliss’s next Ashes experience — the very different task that England are just about to undertake again. The small matter of taking on Australia in their own backyard. And in 2017-18 it was made even harder by the absence of Ben Stokes, who was missing because of his infamous altercation in a Bristol nightclub just weeks before.
‘Stokesy left a big hole but you arrive with the idea of not thinking about that and working with what you’ve got,’ says Bayliss. ‘The talent and ability was still there in our side and there was no reason why we couldn’t win.
‘We did play well in periods without doing it for long enough. You look at James Vince reaching 80-odd in the first Test and then getting run out for instance. But the Australians were too good for us in those conditions.’
Bayliss, of course, had been given another taste of what life is like on the other side of the Ashes fence at the start of Australia’s 4-0 win in the curious tale of Jonny Bairstow apparently head-butting Cameron Bancroft in a Perth nightclub. It fed the Australian narrative, post Bristol, of England being happier in bars rather than out in the middle.
Bayliss admits Australia were ‘too good for us in those conditions’ in the 2017-18 series
‘It was odd, that’s a good description of that incident,’ says Bayliss.
‘You just have to be particularly careful when you are playing in an Ashes because anything can get blown up to take the focus away from the opposition.
‘This was one of those inconsequential little things that have happened on a thousand tours but have never got mentioned. In such an important series like the Ashes, people can take any advantage and try to make it count and that’s what happened then. England will be aware of that now and will be trying not to give anyone the opportunity to make headlines. It’s up to them not to let anything affect their focus.’
The third and final Ashes for Bayliss came just before his return home in 2019, a series remembered in England for the extraordinary Stokes-inspired win at Headingley but one that ultimately was to end with Australia retaining the Ashes with a 2-2 draw.
Bayliss hailed Ben Stokes’ incredible performance in the fourth innings at Leeds in 2019
‘There was a performance in that series that was just as important as Stokesey at Leeds — Steve Smith’s two centuries in the first Test,’ says Bayliss.
‘Those innings, particularly the first one, were just as significant because Australia were eight for 120 or something and Smithy gets to 140 and they reach a competitive total.
‘If England had won that first Test it would have put them on the front foot, and it would have been very difficult to come back as an away team from that. The batsmanship both Smith and Stokes showed in that series was something for everyone to learn from. Two of the very best in the world showing us what they do best.
‘All the way through that series there were little periods of great cricket and that’s what the Ashes throws up. Jofra Archer bowling to Smith at Lord’s.
But he believes Australia star Steve Smith’s two centuries at Edgbaston were as important
‘Then also hitting Marnus Labuschagne on the helmet and him bouncing straight back up. Periods of play you just don’t get in a normal series. Everyone gets affected by the enormity of an Ashes, and that day at Lord’s was right up there. There was some pretty tough stuff going on.’
Now Bayliss is back home and getting ready to begin a second stint as a coach in the Australian Big Bash, this time with Sydney Thunder. But he is looking forward to watching another Ashes, this time as an Australian with fond memories of England.
‘It’s amazing how quickly time goes,’ he says.
‘I’ve been home from England for two years now and it feels like six months. It doesn’t seem that long ago that Joe Root took over as England captain but everything seems to happen so quickly these days, a lot more cricket is being played and there’s a lot more water under the bridge. I’m looking forward to this one more than anything as a cricket-lover because the Ashes are always special.’
Bayliss insists Jofra Archer’s bowling to Smith and Marcus Labuschagne was a period ‘you just don’t get in a normal series’
Bayliss is uniquely qualified to pass judgment on these two teams and he thinks England may have a secret weapon – the La Nina weather pattern hitting Australia and seriously affecting both England’s and Australia’s Ashes preparations.
‘It means a lot more rain throughout the summer,’ he says. ‘And, if that’s the case, does that make conditions more in England’s favour? The wickets might have a bit more juice in them and there will be more overheads. It brings the England bowlers more into it and will put more pressure on the Australian batters.’
When the teams do get on the field – and it can only be hoped it stops raining before next Wednesday at the Gabba – Bayliss believes the series could well be decided by the battle of two captains he knows very well in Root and Pat Cummins.
‘That’s a very important match-up,’ he says. ‘They will come up against each other a lot during the series and who comes out on top will be crucial. If Rooty can play the way he has in the last year that will go a long way towards putting a decent score on the board and that would give England something to bowl with.
The La Nina weather pattern is affecting both England’s and Australia’s Ashes preparations
‘Cummins is from my club, Penrith. He’s from just up the mountains and his family live just west of here. Both captains play the game hard but away from it they’re good fellas and both come from lovely families. The men you see off the field is testament to the way they’ve been brought up.’
So what chance do England have, then, coach now you can take a step back from the heat of the Ashes battle? ‘I do expect it to be competitive,’ adds Bayliss.
‘England can win one or two Tests out here and put pressure on Australia. But they will have to get off to a good start. They won’t want Australia to get up to speed early on. It is a while since the Australians have played red-ball cricket but the one thing they will always give you is some fight as we saw in the T20 World Cup.
‘They’re never dead. They’re never out of the contest and they fight to the very end. You can guarantee that will happen in the Ashes and England have to get on top early. It’s not easy to play catch up over here. If any touring team loses the first Test it always seems like a long way back. I’m intrigued to see what happens.’
*Trevor Bayliss will be writing exclusively for Sportsmail throughout the Ashes
Bayliss has urged Joe Root’s men to start quickly, insisting they cannot afford to play catch up
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