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DAY 1 REPORT: Cummins revels in 'dream start' to captaincy reign as England leave out big guns

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Expert
8th December, 2021
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What is it about England and the Ashes at the Gabba? The chaotic clatter of wickets after winning the toss on a green top conjured the nightmares of the ghosts from the past for the tourists.

Back in 2002 Nasser Hussain confidently decided to have a bowl upon winning the toss only for the Australians to accumulate 492, and win by 384 runs on the way to England losing the series 4-1.

Then four years later Steve Harmison notoriously and symbolically sprayed the first ball of the series into the hands of second slip as Australia went on to amass nine for 602 declared and carry off the match by 277 runs, and the series 5-0.

So after Root won the toss and opted to bat on an underprepared wicket after recent rains and going in without bowling talismen James Anderson or Stuart Broad – 1156 Test wickets between them – for the first time in the Ashes since 2006, 37 Ashes matches ago, it all took on a similar foreboding.

It was a sensational start with England opener Rory Burns out on the very first ball of the series with Mitchell Starc producing a perfect inswinger to bowl him around his legs and knocking over leg-stump as Burns shuffled across his wicket for his sixth duck of the year.

It was the second time in Ashes history that a wicket had fallen on the first ball of the series, going back 85 years ago in Brisbane when Thomas Worthington was caught behind by Bert Oldfield off Ernie McCormack.

Starc, whose place in the side was questioned by some including vocal critic Shane Warne, wheeled around the field in jubilation and even received a bear-hug from Marnus Labuschagne as teammates swarmed around him to celebrate.

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It got little better for the tourists with Dawid Malan offering a straightforward first Test catch for new wicketkeeper Alex Carey with a sweet line and length delivery from Josh Hazlewood, bringing captain Joe Root to the wicket in just the fourth over.

Hazlewood struck again, removing Root with a healthy edge to David Warner shin high at first slip for his fourth duck in Ashes Tests and the eighth time he had fallen to Hazlewood. It left England rocking at 3-11.

Much depended on star all-rounder Ben Stokes, playing only his first England match since July, to rescue his team on a Gabba green top as he joined Haseeb Hameed in the middle.

But Stokes was squared-up by Australia’s new skipper Pat Cummins and speared a catch to Marnus Labuschagne, diving to his left at third slip to accept the chance and leave the tourists wallowing further at 4-29.

Andy Zaltzman, the BBC Test Match statistician, dug deep into the archives to come up with the stat that it was England’s worst score at the loss of the fourth wicket in the first innings of the first Test against Australia since January 1887 when they were 13-4 at the SCG.

England went to lunch at 4-59 with Hameed batting through the session on 25 and Ollie Pope an enterprising 17, but former Australian captain Ian Chappell supported skipper Root’s decision to bat after winning the toss.

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“Root made the right decision batting first. With four wickets down, he will cop criticism. There will be something in this track for a few days. England will have to bowl and catch well.” Chappelli said.

Hameed fell to Cummins on the fourth ball after lunch for 25 edging a delivery wide enough to leave for Steve Smith to pocket the catch waist high at second slip, leaving England at 5-60.

Jos Buttler was proactive from the outset and batted positively for his 39 off 58 balls before Starc struck a second time zipping it off the pitch and coaxing a nick and Carey comfortably did the rest.

Buttler added 52 for the sixth wicket with the energetic Pope but England were still in strife at 6-112 upon his departure.

Pope soon after became Cameron Green’s first Test wicket, hooking the youngster to fine leg where Hazlewood took a fine diving catch. Pope made 35 off 79 balls and with him gone England’s innings was sliding further into the mire at 7-118.

Green, the 22-year-old bowling allrounder, was mobbed by his excited teammates celebrating his first wicket in his fifth Test match.

“Green has bowled a lot of good deliveries in his short Test career but they’ve all beaten the edge or not gone to hand. He’s bowled a, let’s say, stinky half-tracker and it has gone to hand.” former Australia Test paceman Stuart Clark said in BBC commentary.

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Ollie Robinson came and went for a duck, giving Carey his third catch of the innings and Cummins his third scalp.

Cummins got his fourth wicket when Mark Wood spooned a lifter to Marcus Harris at short leg for eight, reducing the tourists to 9-144 and the end was nigh.

Fittingly, Cummins took his fifth wicket in his first Test as Australia’s captain when Chris Woakes top-edged to fine leg where Hazlewood took another marvellous diving catch.

England were all out for 147 and Australia just beat the approaching storm to wrap up the innings in a highly disciplined display in the field, taking their chances and inflicting the first psychological blow on Joe Root’s England in the series.

No further play was possible, leaving Cummins thrilled with the opening salvo.

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“It was a dream start,” said Cummins. “It’s been a good start to my captaincy stint. “Everything went to plan. I’m really proud. Not only how everyone bowled but I thought everyone stayed really composed – it’s a long summer and we got off to a really good start.”

Asked if the Starc delivery to Burns was planned, Cummins replied: “I’d like to say so but he’s just got that knack – that’s why he takes a new ball.

“The first couple of overs he seems to find a wicket really often. I thought he in particular bowled really well – he was hugely impressive. So I’m really happy.

“He’s been champion for us for 10 years so I’m really happy with how he’s bowled, certainly not surprised because we’ve seen it so many times. Josh Hazlewood did his stuff, Nathan Lyon played a role and it was really great to see Cameron Green get his first wicket.”

Cummins was suprised that England went in without either Anderson or Broad, both of whom are fit but being held back for later Tests – a decision which confounded plenty on both sides of the Ashes divide.

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