The Ashes – First Test, Day 1: Opening sparring leaves honours even

England 4-196 off 80.3 overs
Vince 83, Stoneman 53, Malan 28 no
Cummins 2-59


For cricket enthusiasts of a certain age, formative Ashes memories are indelibly linked to the Gabba of 1974, the summer of Lillee and Thompson. Brisbane was a very different place then. So was the Gabba. In keeping with the kleptomaniac cronyism which then ruled the state, the idiosyncratic Alderman Clem Jones somehow found himself head curator. Unsurprisingly, he prepared a pitch full of quirks for that summer’s opener. A quickly traumatised England not only had to preserve life and limb facing one of the most fearsome pace duos in history, they had to do so on a pitch that consigned notions of predictability to irrelevancy. Some of England’s finest batsmen never really recovered from the experience.


A very different wicket confronted Steve Smith and Joe Root as they tossed to commence this latest installment of cricket’s most historically durable rivalry.  Gazing at a shorn and very flat surface, Root had little hesitation batting when he won the toss. The ability of England’s inexperienced top order to resist Australia’s quicks looms for most as the likely decisive factor of the summer. The visitors were going to face the music straight up.


England’s left-handed opening combination flagged an immediate intention to let as much as possible pass to the keeper. That didn’t last long. With the game’s 15th delivery Mitch Starc found some inswing to Alistair Cook. With the 16th delivery he got a similarly pitched ball to move away slightly. Cook nicked to first slip. It was a classic new ball dismissal. England were 1-2.


In his fourth test, Mark Stoneman was joined at the crease by James Vince. With a batting average of 19 from his first seven tests, Vince appeared seriously under-credentialed to be his country’s number three. This was probably a moment where many Englishmen held their breath.


Whatever others were thinking, Stoneman and Vince were soon projecting an air of calm discipline. Vince revealed a graceful fluency through the offside, but anything of real extravagance was eschewed in favour of the obvious team plan to occupy the crease. They were greatly assisted in this ambition by the benign wicket. It appeared to be another of those first day tracks in need of further baking under the sun, to better develop a crust and quicken up on subsequent days.


The spongy bounce and absence of movement appeared to spike Australia’s bowling guns. After all the spurious pre-match talk of Bodyline, you might have thought Lillee and Thompson were making a comeback. They weren’t. We had to wait until the fifth over before a bouncer was attempted. Starc’s effort ballooned over the batsman’s head with a resigned air. It seemed to feed a malaise. Australia bowled tightly but without fire. Pat Cummins’ first test over on Australian soil didn’t break out of the 130 kph speed range. Nathan Lyon was bowling by the 18th over. Australia contained, but rarely threatened.


By lunch, England had crept to 1-59 off 29 overs. They would have been satisfied. It had been slow going, but intriguing.


Then weather intervened in a manner that took its cue from the torpor of the opening. Rather than the drama of the traditional Brisbane thunderstorm, a steady drizzle conspired to delay proceedings for a couple of hours.


Having not really built any momentum, England found it no great challenge to resume as they had left off. When Vince finally dispatched Lyon to the cover boundary it almost startled. But there was clear method in their approach. The partnership slowly blossomed. Pat Cummins threatened to work up a better head of steam, but, in the opinion of umpire Erasmus, was transgressing the landing zone in his follow through. Smith couldn’t risk a three man attack, so he was forced to rest him.


The hundred was reached in the 42nd over. Vince increasingly shaped for room to hit through his favoured offside. Stoneman was largely content to nudge and nurgle. Lyon went around the wicket to Vince and immediately bothered him. He found an outside edge, but Tim Paine couldn’t glove it. Somewhere, you suspected Trevor Hohns was turning his mobile off.


Before Australian morale could flag too severely, Cummins returned to hit the top of Stoneman’s middle stump. His patient 53 won’t have left much of a highlight reel, but may yet prove crucial to the series as a whole. Root joined Vince, and England reached a belated tea break at 2-128.


The score had advanced to 145 when Vince pushed a shot to the right hand of Lyon at cover and took off for a single. In one superb motion Lyon gathered and threw the stumps down. Vince would have been vexed to be on his way for 83, but his maiden test half century may yet prove pivotal to his career, and his team’s prospects.


Dawid Malan strode to the crease with five modestly performed tests under his belt. He immediately found the turn Lyon was now extracting from a tacky pitch not to his liking. Root, who had begun calmly enough, now seemed similarly unsettled. They scratched their mutual way to 3-158 at drinks.


When Cummins soon produced some late inswing it didn’t surprise that Root was struck in front. The only shock was that it required a review to confirm the dismissal. England was now a potentially perilous 4-163, as the shadows of the stands lengthened.


Newly promoted in the order, Moeen Ali sought to release the stranglehold Lyon had maintained on the left handers. He mowed a flighted delivery over the mid-wicket boundary. Malan never look any happier against the turn, but at least revealed an ability to capitalise on whatever loose deliveries were proffered. Ali seemed to be settling against Lyon, until Lyon struck back with a brilliant 80th over that left the bearded one bamboozled.


Steve Smith may have missed a trick by immediately claiming the second new ball, denying Lyon any chance to follow up. Starc had a close review on Ali turned down, but the umpires were suddenly nervous about the light and called proceedings to a halt. The psychology of umpires in relation to bad light remains a topic defying rational examination.


After a day where the combatants were clearly feeling each other out, both can make claims to advantage. England will be heartened by the efforts of their new chums. They also achieved a significant first instalment in their series ambition to grind the Australian bowlers down. Australia would have been concerned while Stoneman and Vince were in occupation, but would feel they turned the momentum of the game in the last hour. They can largely thank Lyon and Cummins for that. So much will depend on tomorrow’s first session.


On the evidence of one day, we have a real contest on our hands.




About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.


  1. John Butler says

    With apologies to Alastair. Good proletarian name that it is.

  2. Thanks for filling in all the golfy bits for me JB. Rapier analysis as always. I liked your image of a steady drizzle. Seemed like that sort of day.
    A steady drizzle of:
    A Day One
    A Gabba Pitch
    Warner remarks (sorry thats drivel)
    For the series is this the prelude to the fizzle or the build up to the big wet?

  3. Both sides feeling each other out, PB.

    England were desperate to avoid a knock out punch. Australia seemed curiously reticent to throw it. The pitch certainly influenced events.

    The efforts of either side will really only count if they follow it up today.

  4. Lovely insight and presentation, JB.
    “Eschew” is under-utilised.

    Anything can happen from here.
    And patience, in this age of immediacy, I suspect will be a virtue.

  5. Steady drizzle
    English mizzle
    Quickies fizzle
    Warner whistle
    No dogs listen

  6. Good work JB – a wonderful summary well compiled. Many good observations.

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