Pat Cummins was chuffed to hear Tim Paine rates him as a contender to be Australia’s next Test captain, but the gun paceman says the topic remains a moot point while the keeper is still playing.
Overcast skies and filtered sunlight set the scene as the crowd trickled in around 8AM for the first day of the Ashes series. The Gabba had a green tinge that suggested the ball would not speed express post to the fence. Singles were going to be a premium.
The pitch had been shaved within a whisker of its roots but still looked like the underbelly of Kermit.
This was supposed to be a crucial toss but perhaps more was made of it than was necessary. Strauss won the toss and decided to bat. He did not want to make the mistake Hussain made in 2002. This was proactive stuff from the England captain and he would have been aware that Australia have not lost at the ‘Gabba this century.
If there was a prize for the best rendition of the national anthems then England were already 2-0 up in the preliminaries having won the toss.
Hilfenhaus started from the Stanley Street end and the third ball was short and had a little width. Strauss slashed and Hussey reaped the rewards. If taking down the captain was the first objective, then this was mission accomplished.
Peter Siddle took up the attack from the Vulture Street end and was sedate rather than menacing in his first over. Hilfenhaus was pitching it full and induced an edge through the slips for four. Next ball Trott picked him off his toes to the square boundary. It was overcast but there was no appreciable swing.
After the first hour England had progressed to 1-35 and it was apparent there were no demons in the pitch. Strauss had read the pitch correctly and in hindsight the toss was a non event. After the bluster of the past week this first hour was more a whimper than a bang.
Both teams were like hesitant teenagers at their first ball.
Watson replaced Siddle after the drinks break and his first ball was innocuous and drilled to the mid wicket fence. Watson pitched the last ball of his first over up and Trott played all over it and left a Sydney Heads gap between bat and pad.
At 2-40 Pietersen walked in to a rousing reception. The situation was crying out for Pietersen to take charge and the next hour promised much. The pitch was now bland and Johnson was at his underwhelming best in his opening overs.
Watson, in his second over, was also pitching it up and getting a little swing. He looked the best of the bowlers on show and has improved his thinking. He continues to grow as a cricketer and is not blonde and brittle at all.
This was the time to pitch the ball up and Hilfenhaus and Watson did just that. Siddle and Johnson were obviously slow learners.
It was the 20th over before a shot was hit in anger and it was a KP straight drive that fairly sped over the sluggish outfield. The score at 2-66 after ninety minutes was actually better than it looked as the heavy field probably cost England 15 runs.
Xavier Doherty was given the ball in the 21st over and his first ball to Cook turned appreciably. A run to Cook off the next ball brought Pietersen on strike and there was now a buzz around the ground. Left arm spin was supposed to be his Achilles. KP danced down the pitch and steered a three past widish long on. KP was not going to be dominated.
Watson gets Cook to cut one close to his body and the slash is parried by Doherty but the catch eludes him. Cricket can be a cruel game. The catch should have been taken. This is what some call character building and the young man would have been despondent. Cricket both rewards and punishes and sometimes for no apparent reason.
Doherty has spunk. He tosses up in the next over and KP advances and gets an inside edge. The post lunch session will tell us more about both Pietersen and the Aussie bowlers. 2-86 at lunch was par for both teams.
Post-lunch both Hilfenhaus and Johnson served up the most mediocre bowling you could imagine. Too short, and easy pickings on the legside. This was a lethargic bowling performance and both Pietersen and Cook were allowed to settle into their digs. All it needed was for the Australian butlers (read bowlers) to ask if “Milord was comfortable.”
Hilfenhaus finally settled down after the first six overs to bowl a tight maiden. But I could not help feeling that England were now well on the way to a substantial first innings total. Johnson was disdainfully pulled for four forward of midwicket by Pietersen and this looked like turning ugly.
Johnson gets pummelled through extra cover by Pietersen and at 2 for 117 England are looking composed and in as little trouble as Nadal playing against the lowest ranked Senegal player.
Johnson is replaced by Siddle and strikes straightaway. It was pitched up and moving enough to catch the edge and Ponting made sure at second slip. Pietersen could have left that alone. Siddle is pitching the bowl further up and this is the best he has bowled so far. If he can keep this up for another three overs Collingwood, the new man in, will have to play well.
Doherty is back in the attack and is bowling a tight line and getting some slow turn. Siddle is driven straight by Collingwood and the next ball is up but slightly wider and he slices one to North in the gully. At 4 for 125 England are looking wobbly and it must be said completely against the run of play. The next man in, Bell, could have gone first ball if not for an inside edge into the pad. Doherty is maintaining the pressure from the Stanley end and now the Aussie attack has some intent.
This is not an epic contest between two great teams. It is a contest between a fourth ranked team on the way up and a fifth ranked team trying to prove they are better.
Ponting had four men around Cook with Doherty bowling. Mid on and mid off are up and only one back on the legside. Doherty bowls another tight maiden and has 0-15 from 7 good overs.
With tea approaching England have regrouped once again and at 4 for 170 the match is once again evenly poised. But as I said earlier these are not great teams. No one has imposed themselves. I have my reservations if anyone on either side has the skill to truly dominate. The pitch that promised so much has turned out to be as miserly as my Scrooge grandfather.
Post tea the early skirmishes were looking like a war of attrition.
This is a five day match and both sides are desperate not to concede any advantage. It may be well into the third day before someone makes a move. Someone has to play a decisive innings or bowl a match changing spell. On the evidence so far nobody seems game enough.
Siddle changed the game in a three ball burst that saw him dismiss Cook, Prior and Broad to register a hat trick. This was the Peter Siddle that hacked through South Africa in Sydney. Cook hung his bat out to dry. Prior was bowled by a straight yorker and Broad was hit flush on the toe and plumb. This is why Ponting wants Siddle in the team. This may have been the spell that wins back the Ashes.
For the academics, the first hat trick ball was 141.9 km/ph, the second 142.1 and the third 145.9. Talk of adrenalin rush.
Figures of 12 overs and 5 for 23 has Australia in a commanding position. Victorians seem to be particularly adept at turning tricks! Some are of the hat variety and others of the boudoir.
Bell has looked the most accomplished of the England batsmen and his 50 is consummated with a crisp four through midwicket. At 7-207 England need a partnership and Swann has been known to be a nuisance. Not today! Siddle traps him in front for 10 and at 8 down England will be lucky to make 280.
Bell has been a ringing endorsement and forces Ponting to bring on Doherty at 8-249.
A few overs later Doherty gets Bell to sky a ball to Watson at deep extra cover and at 9-254 Anderson does a burlesque of a reverse sweep and gets four much to the amusement of players and spectators alike.
He then tried a conventional sweep and found the man at shortleg. Next ball Doherty bowls Anderson and England lie exhumed at 260. Siddle with 6-54 and Doherty 2-41 were the stars for Australia and have more than vindicated their selections.
If Johnson had bowled to at least 60% Australia may have bowled England out for under 200. More work needs to be done on this bowling unit. They are not hunting as a team.
Australia had 25 minutes to bat and and were largely untroubled ending the day on 0-25.
Ponting and his batsmen need to build on this and score 500 just after tea on the third day. Can England come back from here?
Advantage Australia the end of the first day and Australian Cricket is not in the terminal decline many thought so.