Cricket: De Villiers goes in to bat for Oz as Botham scoffs

By Ben Horne

South Africa's captain AB de Villiers. Photo / AP
South Africa's captain AB de Villiers. Photo / AP

Written off by Sir Ian Botham among others, Australia have found an unlikely champion for their Ashes prospects in South African captain AB de Villiers.

Botham led a chorus of doomsdayers willing to declare Australia's hopes dead in the water after their Champions Trophy defeat to England, even though the back-to-back Ashes campaign doesn't officially start for another month.

The great allrounder predicted a 10-0 home-and-away whitewash for Alastair Cook's side between next month and January, confident England would even "beat Australia on Mars".

However, Proteas run-machine de Villiers, who has confronted England and Australia in test series over the past 12 months, warned Michael Clarke's friendless side are primed for something special.

"I know the Aussies are up for something big," said de Villiers. "Especially after losing [against England at Edgbaston on Saturday]. They're obviously out of sorts and haven't played very good cricket of late, so the easy pick will be to go for England.

But I would never push the Aussies out of the equation. They're obviously a fighting team and will be somewhere close to competing in the Ashes."

Botham said Australia were clearly the inferior team and was adamant a humiliating 10-0 defeat beckons.

"We would beat Australia if we played them on Mars at the moment, to be honest," Botham said. "England are far superior, far better. We have won the last two Ashes encounters and I expect them to win in style over here and then in style in Australia from November onwards."

Botham wrote in the Sunday Times bad weather was virtually Australia's only chance at salvation.

"I'm serious. Why not? I think we're that much better. All it needs is the players to believe they can do it," he said.

"Australia will be tougher than they look on paper, because they're born fighters, but not only are they struggling to keep a fast bowler on the field for more than one game at a time, losing [Ricky] Ponting and [Michael] Hussey has left a gaping hole in the batting.

"They're relatively inexperienced, which is a big minus coming to a place like England, and when I hear things like, 'Phillip Hughes has a much better technique than when he was last here', I think, 'Well, that wouldn't be hard'."

Botham also slammed Australian team culture, referencing the "homework" drama on March's embarrassing tour of India.

"I've got to say they don't look much like the hard-as-nails cricketers I used to know.

"This business of their coach setting them homework made me laugh out loud. Maybe they've been playing so badly because the players are confused by all this stuff. And if so, good.

"I'm just glad I played in the pre-bulls**t era.

"Homework? Do me a favour. I never did that when I was at school, never mind when I was playing cricket."

- AAP

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