If the 2021-22 Ashes series has displayed a grim familiarity with too many of its predecessors, then it certainly finishes with a difference.
Western Australia’s strict Covid19 restrictions mean there will be no trip across the continent to Perth, with its dry heat and justified feeling of isolation. The Waca did not join the Test rota until 1970 and England’s last visit – in 2017-18, when they were thrashed by an innings and 41 runs – marked its farewell before the flit across the Swan River. The Perth Stadium is only two Tests old, India and New Zealand being thrashed by 146 and 296 runs respectively, but will have to wait a bit longer to greet England.
Instead the Ashes makes a maiden trip to the Bellerive Oval in Hobart, which has been staging Tests intermittently since 1989, the 13 matches so far resulting in nine wins for the hosts. Just two defeats have been suffered there, the most recent in the last Test there when South Africa won by an innings and 80 runs in November 2016.
It may not have staged an England Test yet but the ground, which was established in 1914, is no stranger to Surrey players. In 1999-2000, Saqlain Mushtaq – fresh from helping Surrey to their first County Championship title in 28 years – ran through the Australians by claiming 6-46 in the first innings, aided by county players past and future Waqar Younis and Azhar Mahmood.
He found it much tougher in the second innings, finishing with 2-130 from 44.5 overs, as Justin Langer and Adam Gilchrist hit centuries to afford their side an unlikely win by four wickets.
It would have been a surprise had Ricky Ponting – born in Launceston, Tasmania’s other city – had not marked his territory at some stage, a lack of success in previous matches compensated by cracking 157no out of 558-8dec in a draw against New Zealand in 2001. He was even less forgiving when Pakistan were again the visitors in 2009-10, amassing 209 out of 519-8dec to set up a victory by 231 runs.
Another Surrey overseas player of recent vintage, Kumar Sangakkara, harbours happy memories of the Bellerive Oval as well. He could not save Sri Lanka from a 96-run reverse in 2007-08 despite making 57 and then an epic 192 in a vain bid to chase 507, adding 63 when they were defeated by 137 runs in 2012-13.
Regardless of the make-up of the teams who take the field – which given England’s travails in saving the Sydney Test, could mean several changes – there will be a strong Surrey influence off it. Michael Di Venuto, former head coach at the Kia Oval, is one of Justin Langer’s assistants and will be looking forward to a match on his home ground. In the visitors’ dressing room will be Graham Thorpe, one of Surrey’s great modern players, who took charge of the visitors at the SCG with Chris Silverwood isolating, so has the rare claim among England coaches of holding an unbeaten record.