England sweat in Oz's outback

Mitchell Johnson (AP Photo)
Mitchell Johnson (AP Photo)

Melbourne - Under a blow-torch of criticism after their humbling in humid Brisbane, England's beaten cricket team will seek respite from a tempestuous Ashes series in the most unlikely of places - Australia's scorching 'Red Centre'.

England endured a heated reception at the Gabba, where a hostile local media, baying crowds and paceman Mitchell Johnson conspired to make their first test as unpleasant as the wet-bulb and the 381-run loss would suggest.

The storied desert city of Alice Springs, where England jetted off to on Tuesday, is set to offer a much warmer welcome, however, with temperatures expected to nudge 40 degrees Celsius this week.

As part of the R 'n' R component of their itinerary, the team will head to Uluru, the magnificent red monolith that rises improbably from a sparse, flat landscape some six hours' drive from Alice.

"The trip will be a really important preparation phase for us," wicketkeeper Matt Prior, who failed twice with the bat at the Gabba, wrote in Britain's Daily Telegraph on Tuesday.

"It feels like we are getting out of the limelight for a while so we can quietly go about our business to make sure we are ready to go for Adelaide."

Pondering their limited time at the crease at the Gabba, some of England's batsmen might draw inspiration from Uluru, an unyielding presence despite millions of years under siege from the elements.

Fittingly, the English cricketers did their best to impersonate inanimate objects when swarmed by Australian media at Brisbane airport on Tuesday.

In contrast to the Gabba where they seemed keen to play at anything, the team collectively shouldered arms in the face of a barrage of queries about the team's mood in the wake of batsman Jonathan Trott's sensational departure owing to a stress-related illness.

Following a test full of chatter, and a noisy media debate comparing the merits of 'banter' versus 'sledging', the code of silence was another departure of sorts for an England team which had hitherto been quite willing to go on the front foot.

Local media were locked out of a Monday briefing with team director Andy Flower, who teed off at Australia opener David Warner for publicly describing number three batsman Trott's second innings dismissal as "pretty poor and pretty weak."

Warner, and Australia, had crossed a threshold in the their verbal assaults, Flower suggested, though neither had prompted Trott's early exit.

The chit-chat between the teams was brought into sharp focus on day four at the Gabba when Australia captain Michael Clarke was caught on the stump microphone suggesting that paceman James Anderson get ready for a "broken" arm when batting at number 11.

Few expect Trott's departure to tone down the chit-chat for the second test at Adelaide, however.

"When you are on the pitch sledging is always going to happen and there will be battles," Prior said in his column.

"Personally I enjoy that fight. It is Ashes cricket and it would not be the same without it."

Arguably, England will not be the same without Trott.

The South Africa-born 32-year-old was a driving force in their march to victory in the 2010-11 series in Australia and scored a brilliant ton in his Test debut at The Oval to help England seal the 2009 Ashes at home.

Captain Alastair Cook and Flower will mull moving Ian Bell or Joe Root up to number three for Adelaide, leaving an unedifying choice between the unproven Jonny Bairstow or a debutant in Gary Ballance or Ben Stokes for the middle order.

A pointer to Adelaide's team will be given on Friday, when England march out into the heat of a forecast 37-degree day to play against a modest Chairman's XI including a 16-year-old schoolboy in left-hand batsman Jake Doran.

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