England in danger of being undercooked by weak build-up

Alastair Cook and Moeen Ali get to know some of the local fauna Getty Images

There's an expression: you ask God for oranges, but he gives you lemons so you make lemonade.

It's an odd expression, really. God reportedly made the universe in six days. He invented light in a morning (it may have been the afternoon; it was hard to tell as it was dark). He made things that creep (a huge mistake, in retrospect, especially considering some of the 'things that creep' in Australia) and things that fly. He commanded - yes commanded - the earth to bear fruit, then fashioned people from clay and made a talking snake.

You'd think he could get you an orange.

Maybe there's a metaphor for the start of England's tour in there somewhere, too. While the team management are falling over themselves not to complain about the pitches or opposition they have encountered ahead of the Test series - they are very much of the 'let's make lemonade' mentality - the fact is England are going to face a vast step-up in quality when they arrive at The Gabba in just over a week.

Let's look at the standard of opposition first. The CA XI that England faced in Adelaide could offer just two first-class centuries between them, included seven men with fewer than five first-class appearances and only one man with more than 30. It was, at a push, county 2nd XI standard.

There are some decent reasons for that. The Sheffield Shield is in full swing and many of the best players are involved in it. But not for the best part of 40 years have England faced weaker first-class opposition in Australia and, for a while on Friday (when the CA XI slipped to 25 for 7) it seemed they might record the lowest first-class score in the history of the ground. Cricket Australia have stretched the definition of acceptable opposition here to the limit.

It will be even less experienced in Townsville. Tim Paine, the scorer of one of the first-class centuries and the only man with 30+ first-class appearances, had been recalled to play for Tasmania in the Sheffield Shield, while Jackson Coleman has sustained a side strain. Harry Nielsen, who has played six first-class games, replaces Paine while Harry Conway (who has played seven first-class matches) replaces Coleman. Matt Short will captain.

Now let's look at the pitches. While the pitch in Perth was, by Perth standards, slow, the drop-in pitch in Adelaide was pretty extraordinary. It was not just slow, it gripped and seamed. It also featured a lush outfield which reduced the value of strokes. Some experienced observes reckoned they had never witnessed a slower outfield in first-class cricket.

Again, there are mitigating factors. The Adelaide Oval hosted a hybrid match between Aussie Rules footballers and Gaelic Rules footballers the day after England left town - to the uninitiated, the action resembled the footage purporting to be of Ben Stokes outside that nightclub in Bristol - and decided it was necessary to leave the outfield grass unusually long. They also lacked the time to work on the drop-in surface they might have liked.

Is it a coincidence? Two warm-up pitches offering relatively slow surfaces and two games against relatively modest opposition? Coming right before a Test series against an attack relying on its pace? On surfaces likely to prove far quicker? That will mean England have been given preparation of limited use? Quite a coincidence.

When asked about these issues so far on the tour, the England management have answered - not without a germ of truth - that Australia fare no different when they visit England. A germ of truth and a lot of knowledge that they will only be denounced as "whingers" if they vocalise their frustrations.

But while it is partially true that touring teams to England face diluted opposition, it is also a matter of degrees. The 2015 Ashes tour, for example, saw Australia play two four-day, first-class matches ahead of the Test series against an Essex side that contained five players that either had or would soon go on to have international experience (Ravi Bopara, Jesse Ryder, Tom Westley, James Foster and Ryan ten Doeschate) as well as good county players such as Jamie Porter and Nick Browne. They also played a Kent side that included Rob Key, Sam Billings, Sam Northeast and Daniel Bell-Drummond.

Were they full-strength sides? No. But where they second elevens? On surfaces as different as possible from the Test series to follow? Certainly not.

What does all this mean? Australia are favourites for this series. They have an exciting pace attack and a couple of batsmen who may well be remembered as greats. They didn't necessarily have to roll out the red carpet or make life as easy as possible for England. But to give them lemons? If the end result has become this important, cricket needs to take a good, hard look at itself. It's all a bit disappointing.

The England squad didn't train on Monday. While Moeen Ali and Tom Curran had a net, the rest of the squad enjoyed a day off (most went paint-balling) after several hours of travel the previous day. Moeen also accompanied Alastair Cook to the Billabong Sanctuary - a wildlife reserve - a few miles outside Townsville (where Mitchell Johnson and Julian Assange were born) where they posed with koalas and fed crocodiles with roosters named after each of them. All good fun, really. Unless you were one of the roosters. They had a rubbish day.

But the pitches, the opposition, the roosters does a nation with confidence in its own team really need to do all this? You'd think a country blessed with such resources could manage the odd orange.