Australia headed to Edgbaston, which locals insisted was definitely in the top 15 most intimidating grounds in the world.
It was a claim that failed to convince Tim Paine. And with good reason, as Australia won the first Test by 251 runs.
Here are the ratings for the first Ashes Test.
Omitting fast bowlers
Before the Test began, Australia unveiled their first big surprise, leaving Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood out of the XI in favour of James Pattinson and, uh (checks notes) Peter Siddle?
It was a bold move from Justin Langer and the rest of the selectors, especially considering that most casual fans over over the last five years or so had been working under the assumption that ‘James Pattinson’ was nothing more than the name Pat Cummins uses when he goes nightclubbing.
Not to be outdone, England left out Jofra Archer from their starting side and then went one step further by omitting Jimmy Anderson from any additional bowling eight overs after the Test match began.
It turned out that Anderson, to paraphrase Michael Clarke, needed to get ready for a tight f***ing calf. He left the field under an injury cloud, which was a shame, because Anderson is immensely dangerous with the Dukes ball under any kind of cloud.
Steve Smith’s century
England, however, needed no help from Anderson in the first few sessions of the Test. An inspired opening spell from Stuart Broad accounted for both David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, who made two and eight respectively. Their second innings weren’t much better, with scores of eight and seven. Suspend both openers for another year, I say, until they learn their lesson.
The wicket of Bancroft brought Steve Smith to the crease, and the former Australian captain braved the boozy – and boos-y – Birmingham crowd to bring up a century in his first Test innings back from suspension. In the process, he helped pull Australia from the doldrums of 8/122 to an almost-respectable 284 all out, as he was last man out for 144 (the rare Base 12 century).
In retrospect, Cricket Australia banning their captain and best batsman for a year just so he’d be sufficiently annoyed on his return to single-handedly retain the Ashes is next-level planning.
In reply, England made 374, thanks primarily to a Rory Burns century that was built on equal measures of gritty determination and wild edges that flew through gaps in the slip cordon.
Burns was also assisted by not being given out LBW on 21 when Nathan Lyon trapped him in front of the stumps.
Although he wasn’t on his own there. Players from both sides developed severe bruising on the centre of their inner forearms as they were forced to review a barrage of wrong umpiring decisions.
In a way, the wrongness of the umpires – particularly Joel Wilson – was impressive. The proportion of wrong decisions was more than would have been expected had they simply tossed a coin. By the time Australia was bowling on the final day, the proven inaccuracy of Wilson and Aleem Dar meant that all umpire’s call results on DRS were actually being used as evidence to overturn the decision. Astonishing stuff.
Still, to be fair to the umpires, the worst decision of the Test was still probably that moment when I decided to go to bed at tea on the first day and missed Smith’s match-turning century.
Steve Smith’s other century
Luckily, there was another century from Smith to catch. After England led by 90 runs on the first innings, it was over to Smith to guide Australia first to parity, then to safety, and finally to a match-winning lead.
England had no answer to the former Australian captain’s batting. It’s possible they didn’t even understand the question. Not surprising, seeing as Smith seemed to be posing it in some kind of homemade semaphore.
In commentary, Nasser Hussain grew increasingly desperate. “The England team should try more… um, knuckleballs?” he suggested. “Yes. Why not? And, uh, yorkers. Try yorkers. Also, why not steal his bat?”
Later, David Lloyd tried to convince a random bozo in the crowd to offer opinions on how to dismiss Smith. He didn’t know either. Still, worth a shot.
Eventually, Smith was out for 142, caught behind from the bowling of Chris Woakes. It was two runs fewer than he made in the first innings. A worrying downward trend in this series.
Nathan Lyon’s Sunglasses
A century from Matthew Wade, along with some late order hitting from Paine, Cummins and Cummins’ nightclub alter ego, meant Australia set England 398 to win in the final innings.
England fell a heartbreaking 252 runs short, as Lyon spun and Cummins bounced Australia to victory. So professional has Lyon become that when Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes came together, the Australian off-spinner donned a pair of sunglasses while bowling to combat their blinding redheadedness. It’s the one-percenters that made a difference.
Also, it didn’t hurt that Wade was running around at cover, nice-Garry-ing like it was 2016 all over again. Good to have you back, Matty.