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The Liebke report card: 'Only two flaws in Head's innings (three if you count the moustache)'

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11th December, 2021
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It’s time for the Ashes again, with Australia hosting England at the Gabba for the first Test, and these are the other ratings for the series opener.

Going into the match, all eyes were on new Australian Test captain Pat Cummins. Nothing unusual about that, of course. He’s a very handsome man to rest one’s gaze upon.

England’s Collapse. Grade: A-

Classical Test openers thrive via the sound defensive shot and judicious leave. In cricket parlance, they ‘know where their off stump is’. Rory Burns is an opening batter who knows where his off stump is. Why, it’s a couple of stumps over from the leg stump that Mitchell Starc hit first ball of the series.

The opening delivery set the tone for the first half hour. One of those clanging emergency tones that urge you to flee the building you’re standing in. Twenty balls into the Test and Joe Root was striding to the crease at 2/11.

Perhaps the key to Cummins combining being a fast bowler and captain was to have all the wickets fall before he got to bowl?

But no, that’s the coward’s path of fast bowling leadership. Instead, Cummins brought himself on to target Root. The wily England skipper, however, managed to not face a single ball from him, instead falling to Josh Hazlewood for a cunning duck. The Australian captain effortlessly outfoxed by his more experienced counterpart. Cummins had to settle instead for a sad 5/38 as England were dismissed for 147.

David Warner’s Luck. Grade: A

When Australia went out to bat, Marcus Harris was, inevitably, dismissed cheaply. It was a disappointment for his parents Ryan and Grace who had braved quarantine to be at the Gabba to cheer him on.

David Warner, however, was not dismissed cheaply. Oh, he should have been. He was bowled off a Ben Stokes no ball, then dropped in slips and later should have been run out while sprawled on the ground, batless and out of his crease.

David Warner of Australia is bowled by Ben Stokes of England prior to it being ruled a no ball during day two of the First Test Match in the Ashes series between Australia and England at The Gabba on December 09, 2021 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

David Warner of Australia is bowled by Ben Stokes off a new ball. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

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You have to admire England for not taking any half-chances. It’s whole chances or nothing for them. Never compromise. Great commitment to the bit from Team England.

After Warner was bowled off the no ball, commentators breathlessly gave us the stunning statistic that when he survived due to a belated no ball call, he invariably went on to make a century.

This is one of those stats that seems amazing, but isn’t really when you think about it. Warner averages essentially 50 (more in Australia). If you give him a bonus time at bat, then a century is more or less exactly what you’d expect to see. Maths, innit?

Travis’s Head Grade: C

Just as we were beginning to accept that we may never know for sure if Travis Head is a good cricketer or not, he put a very large stamp in the ‘evidence for’ column with a staggering innings of 152 from 148 balls that helped Australia recover from 5/195 to 425.

There were only two flaws in the Head innings (three if you count the moustache). First, a tendency to hit panicky sixes whenever his strike rate threatened to fall below 100.

Second, and more intriguingly, he was felled at one point by a beamer from Mark Wood. And while he bounced almost immediately back up from that particular delivery, it’s curious as to why England moved away from continuing to target Travis’s head in this fashion. Nothing else was working for them. Perhaps a sustained beamer barrage might have seen him undone.

Travis Head of Australia celebrates his test century during day two of the First Test Match in the Ashes series between Australia and England at The Gabba on December 09, 2021 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Matt Roberts - CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

Travis Head (Photo by Matt Roberts – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

And yes, that would have also seen the umpires ban the beamerers from continuing to bowl in the match. But even that tactic had upsides. Australia can’t score runs if all the England players have been banned from bowling. That’s just common sense.

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Eventually, however, it was a yorker – the reverse-beamer as it’s known in Durham – from Wood that dismissed Head, bringing the Australian innings to a close a substantial 278 runs ahead of England.

Nathan Lyon’s 400th wicket. Grade: C

With such a big lead, captain Cummins could be forgiven for tossing the ball to Nathan Lyon to give the off-spinner a chance to take his 400th Test wicket. After all, Lyon had presumably been banging on and on about it in the dressing room for the last 11 months. (I’m also assuming here that in between Tests, the Australian players all live in a dressing room together.)

But as Root and Dawid Malan put together a magnificent partnership in excess of 150 to see England to stumps on day three just two wickets down, the spectre of Lyon’s 400th continued to stink up the joint. Fortunately, the joint in question has an abattoir-based nickname, so it’s hard to stink it up too badly.

In the end, Lyon got Malan early the next morning to finally reach the milestone. Weirdly, there was a lot of carry-on about him adding 0.25% to his Test wicket tally, yet nowhere near the same amount of fuss when tall-rounder Cameron Green got Root shortly after to double his.

Still, only 97 more until Lyon’s 500th Test wicket.

Technology. Grade: F

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As usual, the summer began with freshly unveiled technology. This time, a graphic that allows us to see the speed off the bat when a shot is played. Sadly, this proved underwhelming. 96.1 km/h for a shot off Jos Buttler’s bat might sound good, but imagine if you were fielding 96.1 kilometres away and had to wait an hour for the ball to get to you. Boring. And this is from someone who’s supposed to be one of England’s most exciting batters!

But over time, this technology faltered, along with Snicko, the third umpire checking of no balls and finally every single camera at the ground itself. I guess it just shows the decay of civilisation in Queensland after several months in isolation from the other states. Who knows what we would have been dealing with if we’d gone to Perth for the fifth Test.

Luckily, the Gabba’s reversion to the stone age (a short journey, to be fair) was swiftly fixed. Cummins himself ducked out the back, turned the Gabba off, then back on again and play resumed, just in time for Australia to bowl England out and chase down a mere twenty runs for a nine wicket victory.

After one Test, it’s Pat Cummins with the perfect captaincy record, then. No surprises there.

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