So all as expected. Australia cruise to an easy ten-wicket victory over England at the Gabba. But it could have been different.
For three days this Test match was a tight and tense affair with neither side able to land the decisive blow; England failed to press home their advantages when in the ascendency, though. With the pitch more docile than many had expected on the first day the tourists were well placed at 246-4 on the second morning. The three inexperienced batsmen had performed well on their Ashes debut all scoring half-centuries and a first innings score well in excess of 350 looked likely. But a poor shot from Dawid Malan opened the door for Australia and they took their opportunity taking the last six wickets for just 56 runs.
“England needed to sieze the moment.”
And again on the third morning, Australia were in a precarious position as they were reduced to 209-7 still trailing England by 92 runs. The Australian batsmen had fallen victim to preconceived plans and some clever captaincy from England captain Joe Root. But just as the batsmen had the previous day, the bowlers missed their chance to take control of the test match and let a demoralising partnership between Steve Smith and Pat Cummins to develop. This allowed Australia to pass England’s score and take a small, but crucial, first innings lead.
“Smith was the difference”
Steve Smith was the difference between the two sides in the first innings as the only batsmen on either team to score a century. This was his 21st hundred in Test cricket and one of his most important given the situation and the magnitude of the match. England’s pace attack tried to restrict his scoring by bowling wide outside off stump negating his favoured run scoring area, through the leg side. But with supreme concentration he batted for eight and a half hours leaving those deliveries alone, waiting for the English bowlers to become frustrated and bowl into his favoured areas.
The Australian captain has an unconventional style at the crease, fidgeting in between deliveries, then exposing all three stumps before the ball is bowled, before shuffling across to cover them up as it’s delivered. It’s a style that has confused many teams around the world and confused the English bowling line-up once again. His unaesthetic approach to batting has meant he is yet to earn the respect his test match record deserves. He has a test batting average higher than almost all batsmen in the history of the game second only to the great Sir Don Bradman for players who have played over fifty test matches. If his brilliant form continues it could be a long tour for the English bowlers.
“The english batsmen began to look vulnerable”
After an encouraging first few days some familiar problems began to rear. The pitch had quickened after baking in sun for three days and the English batsmen started to look vulnerable against some vicious short pitch bowling. The tail end was blown away as they could manage just two runs for the final three wickets in the second innings, leaving Australia chasing a modest target of 170. It’s not as though this should have come as a huge shock to the English batsmen. The Brisbane Courier Mail had printed the word “bodyline” in block capitals on the front page the day before the test. Yet it still looked like there was no clear plan of how they were going to deal with the short ball and this must change if England are to have any chance of winning this series.
“cook needs to step up”
Despite the lower order batsmen’s struggles against the short ball the biggest concern in the English batting line-up is the form of Alistair Cook. Prior to the tour he was thought to be key to any success England might have down under but he has scored one half century all tour and had two single digit failures in Brisbane. His second innings dismissal was particularly worrying as he lazily hooked a short ball straight to deep fine leg. It was the shot of a man who was struggling for runs but the former England captain has been written off before and his country need him to step up in the next test.
Perhaps the biggest surprise to England fans in the first test was how well Nathan Lyon performed. He took five wickets in the match, including the crucial wicket of Mooen Ali in the second innings which effectively ended the match as a contest and produced an outstanding piece of fielding to remove James Vince in the first innings when he looked on course for an Ashes debut century. The off-spinner was able restrict runs and provide a wicket taking threat from one end allowing the pace men to rotate and stay fresh. If England cannot find a way to unsettle Nathan Lyon then they will struggle to post the big scores needed to win Test matches in Australia.
“is there a drinking problem culture?”
As Australia were easing towards victory on the fifth morning reports began to surface of an incident involving Jonny Bairstow and Cameron Bancroft on a night out. In which the Yorkshiremen had supposedly head butted the Australian batsmen. Although both played have said there was no malice involved it just further adds to the idea that there is a problem with the drinking culture in this current English side. Andrew Strauss has now imposed a curfew and the episode has given the players an unnecessary distraction on a tour that is already proving difficult enough.
After an intriguing first test Australia go one-nil up in the series winning very comfortably in the end and England left to rue missed opportunities. Now we move on to Adelaide for the first day/night Ashes test and after losing the first test, it’s a must win or at the very least a must not lose as neither side has comeback from a two-nil series deficit in an Ashes series since the Second World War. This appears to be one of England’s best chances for victory down under, with the potential for some movement through the air with the pink ball under lights. And in James Anderson and Stuart Broad they have the two of the best exponents of the moving ball.
“it could prove disastrous if English faults are once more exposed”
But if England faults are exposed again and they are beaten at the Adelaide Oval it could be the start of a long a tour. And if previous tours are anything to go by, once Australia get on top they like to go for the jugular and then there will be no hiding place.