So, after all the build up, the Ashes 2010-11 are now well and truly underway. Despite a draw in the first Test, honours are certainly not even. England would have been the happier team leaving the Gabba on Monday, clutching a whole heap of records broken during the Test match.
This was hyped as England’s best chance to win the Ashes down under in years. However, when the wicket of Strauss fell with the 3rd ball of the series, England fans’ hearts dropped collectively. And when Hussey and Haddin batted out most of day three, despite Jimmy’s best efforts with the ball in the morning, it looked like same old England against same old Australia.
At the end of day three, an Australian win looked the most likely result, and only something truly special would save the game for England. But something special is exactly what happened. Alistair Cook, so out of form for much of the past 18 months, and notably poor against Australia in previous Ashes series, stepped up to become England’s hero. With an unbeaten 235 in the second innings, Cook smashed his way through the cricket record book, taking the accolades the greats of the game, including the highest Test score at the Gabba since Sir Don Bradman’s 226 v South Africa in 1931.
Supported by Strauss and Trott, Cook helped England to an incredible 517-1, the first time that England have passed 500 in Ashes Test cricket for the loss of one wicket. After missing out in the first innings, Strauss came back strongly in the second to show that he is a force to be reckoned with. Trott too batted exceptionally well, making his second Test 100 against Australia in consecutive Test matches. His 135* upped his Test average to an impressive 59 after 14 matches.
The opening partnership of 188 between the captain and Cook was the highest by a visiting team at the Gabba, and on the way to it they become the most productive opening partnership in England’s Test history.
It was only the second time that the 3 top batsmen have scored a century for England in the same Test innings, the first instance being at Lords in 1924.
Cook and Trott’s partnership of 329 (both unbeaten) was the highest for any wicket in all Tests in Brisbane, beating the 307 Hussey and Haddin had set two days before, and the highest partnership for any English wicket in Australia.
Cook spent an incredible 28 hours on the pitch over the five days, only off the pitch for the end of England’s first innings on day one.
In years to come people will refer to the first Test of this series as seminal moment in Test cricket history. England came back to save this game from a huge deficit, and they did it in style.
Given Australia’s 22 year unbeaten record at the Gabba, England should be satisfied with a draw. And that record makes the result even sweeter for them. The Gabba was the Aussie’s fortress, the place where they just don’t lose. But England showed they are a shadow of their former team.
With all the talk of the first Test match defining the series, things look even more positive for England. They have the momentum after this game, and they made Australia look decidedly mediocre. The Australian press are now on the backs of the players, and their fans made their feelings clear with shockingly poor attendance by the home fans on the final day.
Mitchell Johnson, who didn’t take a single wicket at a cost of 170 runs, did not score with the bat, and was shocking in the field, will miss out at Adelaide as a result. The Australian bowling looked worse than ordinary at times, and Ponting admitted he had exhausted all his options on the final day in an attempt to break the Cook/Trott partnership. Doug Bollinger and Ryan Harris have been called up to the squad for the second Test, with Hilfenhaus likely to be the other bowler to miss out, should both replacements be picked.
It was not all rosy for England. Let’s not forget that they were bowled out for 260 on the first day of the match, and the bowlers were unable to penetrate the Hussey/Haddin partnership for almost an entire day’s play. There was some terrible fielding errors as well, even more striking after England’s usual supremacy in the field these days. The middle order too are yet to perform to their full capability in this tour.
However, on balance these worries are less than those that rest on the shoulders of Ricky Ponting. Anderson bowled his finest hour we have ever seen from him down under, albeit with no reward. Steve Finn took 5 wickets in the first innings on his Ashes debut, and, aside from the hat-trick from Siddle on day one, the Australian bowlers toiled through their overs, and will be exhausted from spending almost two days in the field at the end of the first Test. With the next Test on the batters paradise of the Adelaide Oval, the toss will be crucial, with both captains likely to jump at the chance to bat first.
The most important thing that England, and their fans, can take from the first Test match of this series is that, crucially, when up against it at the start of their second innings with a deficit of 220, they didn’t crumble under the pressure, as we have seen them do so many times against the Aussies. England are no longer scared of Australia.