The 1st Test at the Brisbane Cricket Ground saw a fitting start to the 2010 Ashes series. The contest between England and Australia lived up to the pre-match hype to deliver five days of absorbing cricket to whet the spectator appetites. The first three days of the Test lulled us all in to a false sense of belief that this was an Ashes Test of old. How wrong that notion turned out to be. In the past, English teams had been slaughtered at the Gabba, but this was no flock of lambs to be led to the slaughter, as the Australians found out the hard way, this team turned out to be wolves in sheep’s clothing. The Gabba is an impregnable fortress to visiting teams and it is not a coincidence that the 1st Test of each series is scheduled at this venue. Many have dubbed this ground as “The Gabbatior” due to the relentless pressure Australian teams put on the opposition at this venue.
The usual familiarity of a poor start by England and a strong start by Australia had everyone fooled that we would see an Australian win by the end of the fifth days play. However, if Australia along with everyone else thought that England would give up the urn without putting up a fight, they had another thought coming. This team showed strength of character that’s rare for any visiting team to Australia. The Australians had England on the back foot for the greater part of the first three days play. At the end of the first day’s play, Ian Bell vowed that England would fight back, and fight back they did in record breaking style. This seesawing game is a reminder that we are finally going to see an even contest in a Test series in Australia.
THE AUSTRALIAN POSITIVES
Four years ago, the England campaign to retain the Ashes was derailed in the 1st Test at the Gabba by Glenn McGrath who shattered the English dreams by taking 6 for 50. In the 2010 edition, Peter Siddle gave the Aussies a similar start with his figures of 6 for 54 which also included a rare hat-trick. This turned out to be the only stand out performance that the Australians could muster from their bowling department.
Peter Siddle, a last minute choice over Doug Bollinger, justified his selection by bowling with pace and aggression. He broke a solid partnership between Cook and Peterson which was threatening to take the game away from Australia. He then bowled very skillfully to get his first hat-trick in Test cricket by getting the wickets of Collingwood, Prior and finally the wicket of Broad with a beautiful swinging full length ball. This was the first Australian hat-trick in an Ashes Test since Shane Warne achieved this feat in 1994 in Melbourne. He then stopped a late rally from Bell and Swann by getting Swann out leg before to completely break England rearguard. His line and length kept the batsmen in two minds of whether to play on the front or back foot and reaped just rewards by finishing the first innings with figures of 6 for 54.
The Australian batting stood strong in the face of an inspired English bowling attack. Even though Australia was in a spot of bother at 143/5 they recovered well through Hussey and Haddin. A record partnership of 307, the highest ever partnership for any wicket at the Gabba, between these two put Australia in the driving seat yet again. Hussey got to his highest ever test score but fell five runs short of a well deserved double century. He played with freedom and aggression which was no doubt spurred on by the need to save his Test career. Haddin played an excellent supporting role and got to his third Test century. Both these batman weren’t given any easy runs by England as they bowled very well though out the inning. This reason alone made Hussey’s batting in particular a very special knock. He was out of form, fighting for his place in the team and Australia was in a dicey position at 143/5 facing relentless bowling from tough opposition. Given these insurmountable odds Hussey’s feat is nothing short of exceptional.
THE AUSTRALIAN NEGATIVES
Much was expected from their stand out bowler Mitchell Johnson to produce a good start for Australia. Johnson turned out to be as effective as a feather duster on a Sherman tank against the English batting. He ended wicket less in 43 overs, scored an 18 ball 0 and dropped Strauss when he was on 69 to deny debutant Xavier Doherty his third Test wicket. His performance was such a let down to this team that Ian Chappell has already called for Johnson to be dropped for the 2nd Test in Adelaide.
The Australian Bowling:
Siddle’s bowling in England first inning was the only spark in an uninspired bowling effort by the Australians. Mitchell Johnson was dismal, Hilfenhaus and Watson were just as bad, and at times looked insipid and languid barring a wicket apiece at the start. Xavier Doherty bowled well for a debutant and even though he got two wickets for himself, the wicket of Ian Bell was a gift as Bell was looking to up the ante to get the scorecard ticking.
To sum up their appalling performance with the ball, the only wicket they managed to take in the England second inning was by part timer Marcus North which was more the batsman’s mistake than a feat of prodigious bowling.
The Australian Fielding:
Five dropped catches in the England second innings summed up the Aussie efforts in the field. These missed catches may not have had a profound effect on the end result of the game, but it certainly had an effect on the Australian morale. The Aussie shoulders drooped lower and lower as catch after catch went to ground. As hard as some of these chances were, the Australians must be smarting as they have turned matches purely by their fielding performances in the past. Abysmal fielding, coupled with their pathetic bowling not only took the game away form them, but may have a butterfly effect on the success of the future matches.
THE ENGLISH POSITIVES
Mental toughness is the first positive trait that’s associated with this team which is undoubtedly transferred directly from the personalities of Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower. Add focus, concentration, application, perseverance, resolve, determination to toughness and that would aptly describe this English team.
The English Bowling:
Tenacity and perseverance are the key words to describe this English attack. Even though Steven Finn, their worst bowler for the majority of the game ended up with the best figures, Anderson, Broad and Swann must know that stand out performances are just around the corner. This is especially true in Anderson’s case as he bowled very skillfully with the new ball on the third morning albeit with little results. Even Finn made amends for his early lack of accuracy and penetration by breaking the record stand between Hussey and Haddin and then quickly mopped up the Australian tail.
A gritty 67 in the first innings and a majestic 235 not out in the second innings announced the coming of age for this talented opening batsman. The tremendous concentration and application shown by this young man gave him the enviable statistic of the highest individual score by any batsman as well as the first double hundred by a visiting batsman at the Gabba. His 329 run stand with Trott is the highest partnership at the Gabba beating the 307 run stand set by Hussey and Haddin just 48 hours earlier. This partnership is also the highest by an England pair in Australia. A superb retort to Cook’s critics who had called for his axing before the start of the tour.
The English Batting:
The first innings saw Cook and Bell contribute with valuable half centuries to keep England in the game. Bell particularly showed his competence as well as confidence to take on the Australian attack in the face of hostile bowling from Siddle. Both fifties were invaluable in taking England to a respectable score of 260. The second inning saw Andrew Strauss set the tone to the recovery by scoring a hundred which rectified his initial failure in the first innings. Jonathan Trott too applied himself to score an unbeaten hundred to further frustrate Australia. England should take heart that they tamed the Gabbatoir in style with their batting alone which had been their Achilles heel in the past tours of Australia.
THE ENGLISH NEGATIVES
The English Batting in the First Innings:
Strauss, Trott, Peterson, Prior, Swann and Bell all fell to lose shots in their first inning. The Australians made England pay for their lack of concentration by restricting England to 260 and then making 481 themselves. England was lucky that the Siddle couldn’t replicate his first innings form and that Johnson remained bland for the whole game or it would have been Australia who took the accolades for the broken records instead of England.
Some would argue that Strauss took 40 – 50 runs too long to declare and therefore gave up an opportunity to win the game. While this is true, they could have lost the game just as easily as the Aussies have adequate batting strength to score at five an over, as shown by Ricky Ponting’s second innings half century in only 43 balls. Also, it would have taken an extra special effort from the England bowlers to take 10 Australian wickets in 50 or so overs. Kudos to Strauss as made sure that there is no possibility for England to lose the game before he made the decision to declare. Andrew Flintoff, the England captain in the 2006/07 Ashes series, was in a similar position during the 2nd Test in Adelaide. England was in a strong position at 551 for 6 with Flintoff still at the wicket, and instead of ensuring that England was in a position not to lose the game he made the ill fated decision to declare. The Australian batsman put up a 500 plus score and then Warne & Co. shot out England for 129 in the second inning. England lost due to the lack of foresight by Flintoff which cost them the game and the ability to fight back to square the series. England never recovered from there and went on to lose the series 5 – 0. This would have been in the back of Strauss’s mind when he made the decision of when to declare.
All in all, the English team has won an important psychological battle. They have done everything right from the time they arrived in Australia. They’ve gone about their business very quietly yet won two matches out of three in their lead up to the 1st Test. They’ve battled hard to draw the 1st Test in an Australian fortress and they’ve broken a number of records in doing so. This team is unlike any other English team that had toured Australia in the last two decades. It has a certain steel and resolve underneath its deceptively fragile exterior.
In contrast, the Australian camp have much to debate about and rectify for the oncoming matches as they cannot let England gain momentum and get the upper hand as the tour progresses. Ponting must have a headache the size of Ayers Rock with some of the tough questions going around his team. Should Watson be dropped down the order? Should Marcus North be given another opportunity or is it time to bring Usman Khawaja in? Is it time to stop handling Mitchell Johnson with kid gloves? Play two spinners or three pacemen at Adelaide? It’s such a pity that this great man is put under the cosh so often to make excuses for his team. For the first time in many years things are starting to look ominous for the Australians at home.
The score may read 0-0 at the moment, but in the English camp, Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower have notched it up as England 1- Australia 0.
* Statistics courtesy of cricinfo.com
* Statistics courtesy of cricinfo.com