La Nina rains on England’s parade as first outing cut short by weather

On a day when La Nina announced herself as a major player on the east coast Ashes swing, potentially as influential on the series as any Steve Smith or Ben Stokes, England took their first, sodden steps towards the Gabba in the most subdued of settings on Brisbane’s suburban Bayside.

The relative serenity and lack of fanfare at Peter Burge Oval, where less than 100 people were watching the intra-squad match from the concrete steps of a mini-grandstand, would have come as a welcome relief for touring captain Joe Root, whose club Yorkshire is embroiled in a racism scandal at the same time Australia comes to grips with the sexting of former captain Tim Paine.

Stuart Broad and James Anderson talk with fans during Tuesday’s intra-squad match – it was as close as any outsiders got all day.Credit:Getty

The tourists have been in quarantine on the Gold Coast and this was their first moment of public exposure, relatively speaking, although you would have done well to realise some of the biggest names in world cricket were in their whites if you were driving past the picket-fenced ground.

They were largely kept clear of the handful of England supporters, although a few obliging players scribbled some names on shirts, perhaps contravening the COVID-19 protocols but winning hearts and minds in the process.

None, however, were available to speak to the media about their preparations, let alone the story that has dominated the headlines of English cricket in recent weeks as investigations continue into the treatment of Root’s former Yorkshire teammate Azeem Rafiq, whose whistleblowing has sparked an investigation that goes to the heart of English cricket culture.

Root will be unlikely to get a more relaxed setting to share his thoughts locally but that may well come on the third and final of the three-day fixture, by which time he may even have had the chance to bat if the weather allows more than a stop-start tempo to proceedings.

Rory Burns clips the ball off his pads at Peter Burge Oval on Tuesday.Credit:Getty

On Tuesday, he watched from the clubhouse as Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed largely toyed with the attack of the England Lions before consistent, heavy showers ensured an early end to play midway through the afternoon.

Hameed ended the day on 53 and Burns 39 as the pair cruised to 0-98, with Root and the returning Ben Stokes to fill out the middle order once the second XI attack manage to extract a few wickets.

The weather had the final say and with the La Nina pattern confirmed by the Bureau of Meteorology as being in play for the summer for the northern and eastern parts of Australia, it’s unlikely to be the last time the covers are rushed out during the Ashes series, which begins at the Gabba from December 8.

England would have relished the chance to really acclimatise under local conditions before the Gabba Test but with similar forecasts for Wednesday and Thursday, the practice nets and a second intra-squad match next week are looking like their better option.

Ben Stokes rolls his arm over during the lunch interval.Credit:Getty

By that time, the Australians will have taken over the dressing rooms at Peter Burge Oval as they go through their own intra-squad practice match, one which could well be highly instructive in determining spots in the middle order and behind the stumps.

England had no special requests for curator Chris Hepburn and on a pitch that played straight and true, will no doubt welcome some extended time in the middle should the weather co-operate.

But Australia has asked Hepburn for a fresher pitch with more fizz, something that may more closely mimic what they can expect at the Gabba when the series, at long last, bursts into life.

“There are some quality bats out there, it’s not an underdone pitch by any means. It’s nice and hard and firm so the bowlers aren’t going to have too much of an advantage over the batters,” Hepburn said as the aggressive Hameed cracked a pull shot to the boundary right in front of his vantage point.

“They just want time to get out and bat. If it was a real bowler-friendly wicket it wouldn’t be helping them out a great deal.”

Stokes spent much of the lunch break bowling and looked sharp and agile as he prepares for his first Test match since March. The star all-rounder took a break from the game in July to tend to his mental health but looms as one of the central characters in the upcoming series.

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