It was tighter at times than many Australian fans expected, but Australia have still cruised to a comprehensive victory over England in the first Ashes Test, defeating the Old Enemy by ten wickets in Brisbane.
Four years ago, it took England three days to capitulate at the Gabba. This time around, it took them four. Technically an improvement, but hardly enough to hide the fact there are some extremely worrying signs for the tourists as the series heads to Adelaide.
Here are five of them.
The tourists executed their bowling plans excellently, while Australia’s pacemen were below their much-hyped best. England’s much-maligned batsmen in James Vince and Mark Stoneman both performed strongly, whereas Peter Handscomb and Usman Khawaja both failed with the willow.
And England got absolutely walloped.
While the tourists have areas where they will improve – the batting of Alastair Cook and Jonny Bairstow will surely get better as the series moves on – any gains with the bat will be cancelled out by Australia’s quicks growing into the summer.
While Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon both bowled excellently throughout the first Test, Josh Hazelwood and Mitchell Starc were far from the match-winning form Australian fans are used to.
Hazlewood struggled to find the immaculate line and length he has become known for, while Starc lacked both the pace and swing which has made him one of the world’s most feared bowlers. Despite that, they combined for ten wickets for the match.
Assuming the pair improve in the following Tests – hardly a risky gamble – England need to show considerably more ticker with the bat to have any chance of competing this series.
There’s no doubt Joe Root is a class above the rest of England’s batting line-up. His second-innings fifty was a calm and composed innings in which the English skipper continually turned over the strike and dispatched any loose deliveries.
Despite that, two issues with Root’s game have become apparent.
The first is his inability to convert fifties into centuries. Root has 13 Test tons and 32 half-centuries, a poor conversion rate compared to the likes of Steve Smith and David Warner, both of whom are far closer to a fifty-fifty split (21-21 for Smith and 20-25 for Warner).
The second is of far more concern – Root was out in both innings in Brisbane in identical fashion, falling over his front leg and being trapped LBW. Judging by how frequently Australia went searching for that lethal inswinger, it’s a flaw they are well aware of, and one they will continue to exploit in the remaining four Tests.
If Root is able to tighten up that part of his technique, he’ll go a long way towards providing England with the batting stability they are in such need of. If he can’t, he and his side will be in for a thoroughly unenjoyable Ashes summer.
The Australian selectors copped all manner of criticism for a number of controversial selections for the first Test. Looking through the crystal clear lens of hindsight, they were justified in all the calls they made.
Cameron Bancroft was found out in the first innings wafting at a ball he should have left, but batted excellently with David Warner to turn a potentially tricky run-chase into a procession.
Tim Paine dropped a tough chance off Nathan Lyon but was otherwise excellent with the gloves. His stumping of Moeen Ali showed just how valuable having the best wicketkeeper in the country playing Test cricket is; aside from being an example of superb glovework, the crucial wicket turned the game in Australia’s favour on Day 4.
And then there’s Shaun Marsh. By any measure, he shouldn’t have been picked. His record in the Test team is poor and his recent domestic form didn’t demand selection. But his partnership with Steve Smith on Day 2 saved Australia from the ignominy of a first-innings deficit, one which they may not have recovered.
Marsh’s dismissal might have been yet another example of him getting out to a frustratingly poor shot, but his 51 runs were as valuable as they come and will ensure his continued and deserved selection for the next two Tests at least.
Australia’s bowling attack is far better than England’s. That’s neither controversial nor some recent revelation.
On top of their superiority with the ball, Australia’s bowlers proved they have far more to offer with the bat than their English counterparts.
After the tourists’ tail added a handy 53 runs after the fall of their sixth wicket in the first innings, they completely capitulated in the second, losing their last four batsmen in the space of ten runs – and their last three for one.
Compare that to Australia, who benefitted so greatly from Pat Cummins’ 42 off 120 balls (England’s bowlers faced just 128 balls between them for the entire Test). Had Cummins not been able to bat so ably with Steve Smith, it’s unlikely Australia would have taken a first-innings lead.
Cummins has proven himself capable with the bat in hand in the past, as have all of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon.
Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad are both handy with the willow themselves, but neither suggested they’ll offer too much resistance to the Australian attack for the rest of this summer.
If any of the remaining Tests are as tight as the first innings at the Gabba was, that difference could just be the advantage that gives Australia the Ashes.
That said, if you bring Ben Stokes into the side in place of Jake Ball, and shift Moeen Ali to eight and Woakes to nine, the English tail suddenly looks considerably more robust.
Is this argument over yet?
Yes, yes it is, particularly after Smith’s masterful century in the first innings.
Smith’s technique is the stuff of nightmares for batting coaches around the world, yet it works for him.
His exorbitant shuffle across the stumps allows him to leave judiciously and clip anything remotely straight through the leg-side, his chokehold on the base of the handle doesn’t restrict his off-side play half as much as it should, and he is completely unfazed by the kind of bouncer barrages England attempted in Brisbane.
There are four days until the second Test starts. England would do well to spend the vast majority of them working out how they might possibly remove Smith, because they looked utterly incapable of taking the Australian skipper’s wicket at the Gabba.
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