Ashes war of words intensifies

Former and current Ashes stars have taken aim ahead of the first Test in nine days' time

"I thought the sledging stuff was supposed to stop? There's a lot of sledging going on in the media."

Bupa Suport Team Head Coach Darren Lehmann perfectly summed up the increasing war of words between the two Ashes combatants as the first Test in Cardiff draws ever closer.

England fast bowler Stuart Broad is one of the headline acts playing the antagonist towards the touring Australians, boldly targeting the world No.1 ranked Test batsman Steve Smith.

Broad believes Smith's promotion to No.3 in the batting order – a move which yielded a career-best 199 against the West Indies last start in Jamaica – will help, not hinder, England's chances of regaining the urn.

"It's an advantage for us with him coming in at No.3 with the Dukes ball in England," Broad said.

"If he comes in at five like Joe Root does for us, there's not many weaknesses there.

"But with the ball moving around in England, we know how hard it is to bat in that top three.

"I'm certainly not doubting the quality of him as a player ... but you have to have a very tight technique to bat in the top three against the Dukes ball in England." 

Broad isn't alone in his damning assessment of Smith's technique against the moving ball, with former England off-spinner also predicting doom for the 26-year-old Australian should the Dukes ball bend in the air.

And Swann was surprised by Smith's coronation as the world's premier Test batsman, and hopes the blond batsman's prolific purple patch dissipates this winter.

"Yeah, because I didn't think he was a great player," Swann told The Gaurdian when he heard of Smith's ascension to the top of the ICC Test batting rankings.

"I still don't think he's got a great technique. He must have surprised himself, as well as everyone else, with his output.

"The trick for him is to try to keep that going. Whether he can, time will tell. I don't think he'll score runs at three if it's swinging.

"Weakness will emerge with Steve Smith. He's not like a Steve Waugh – a nugget with no obvious ways of getting him out. I hope for England's sake that he's a flash in the pan."

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Swann dismissing Smith in the 2013 Ashes // Getty Images

While Broad and Anderson are predicting disaster for Australia's vice-captain, Lehmann isn't fazed by England's opening shots on his team.

"They're allowed to have their comments. I'm not too worried about that," Lehmann said following Australia's 255-run tour match win over Kent.

"I think Steve Smith's a pretty good player. I think he got 199 at No.3 the other week, so I think he'll be fine."

But there's an argument to made that the normally reticent right-hander was the one to strike first, forecasting a comprehensive victory to Australia should the visitors play anywhere close to their optimum level.

"From my point of view I can't wait to get over there and play another Ashes in their conditions," Smith told ESPN during the Indian Premier League in April.

"After beating them so convincingly in Australia it's going to be nice to go into their backyard and if we continue to play the same way we've played over the last 12-18 months, I don't think they'll come close to us to be honest." 

Watch: Australia begin Ashes tour in winning style

While Swann predicts Smith will struggle with bat, the 60-Test veteran believes fellow off-spinner Nathan Lyon is the "weakest link" in Australia's formidable bowling attack.

"I'm not saying Lyon is a weak spinner," Swann said. "But he's probably their weakest (bowler).

"Australia have a similar team to New Zealand, they've got good seam bowlers and aggressive batting but their spinner is their weakest link.

With an Australian batsman and bowler named on England's hit list, all that was missing was an allrounder to complete the set.

Speedster Mark Wood's personal vendetta against Shane Watson fills the void after the broad-shouldered Australian labelled England's freshest fast bowler a "net hero" when they first met prior to the final one-day international on the 2009 Ashes tour.

"I had a famous incident with (Watson) in the Durham nets," Wood recalled on BBC Radio 5 Live.

"I remember Michael Hussey asking me to bounce Watson – to which I wasn't going to say no. I let him have one, he's gloved it, and he didn't give me the best of looks.

"Next ball, Hussey said: "Give it him again", so I've bumped him again, and this time he's absolutely smoked it, picked up the ball, threw it back down the wicket at me, called me a "net hero", and said that he would like to have a go at me.

"Well, he's going to get his chance, so I'd like to have a go at Shane Watson one more time, and let's hope he remembers me, because he's going to get a few more bumpers."

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Wood will likely get his chance at redemption this winter // Getty Images

But England's spearhead and most successful Test bowler, James Anderson, is the one who called for the verbal attacks to cease.

Embroiled in arguably the moment of the 2013-14 Ashes series, Anderson – in a heated exchange with bat-pad fielder George Bailey during the first Test in Brisbane – was confronted by an impatient Michael Clarke who asked the tailender to front up to a steaming Mitchell Johnson and prepare for a "broken f**king arm".

Anderson avoided personal injury but was dismissed shortly after to begin Australia's 5-0 Ashes whitewash for the third time since 1882.

But after a riveting and respectful 1-1 drawn Test series against New Zealand earlier this month, Anderson has called for the aggro to be dropped.

"I hope it's played in the same nature as the New Zealand series, that was a really positive series and the nature of both sides' cricket was helped by the spirit the game was played in," Anderson said.

"(But) there's a different relationship between the two teams, the Ashes is a huge series for both sets of players.

"If there is needle, it's something I thought I thrived on or needed in the past but having played in the last few months, I think it's important we get the balance right of playing in the right spirit, but also having that competitive edge to win a game of cricket for your country."

However, Australia's King of Spin and master of the mind game Shane Warne doesn't expect to see Anderson's wish come true.

In particular, Warne – who claimed 195 England wickets in 36 Ashes Tests – says England's new ball pair should expect to be targeted by short pitch bowling from Australia's fearsome fast bowling unit.

"I reckon Michael Clarke and his team will carry on from the last series and give it to Jimmy and Stuart Broad," Warne told The Sunday Times.

"There isn't anyone in world cricket who doesn't know about Broad's concerns with the short ball.

"If you had your time again Stuart, would you really have fessed up in public about this?

"When either of those two bat the Aussie fielders will be like koalas round a eucalyptus tree."