England lead by 140 runs.
Everyone forgets how to bat properly and Steve Smith hits a six.
It was a relief to get play started, such was the monstrous hype to the day. Not only have Sky and the BBC been building up to the series with ever more contrived retelling of previous Ashes moments, but the television broadcasters went one step too far when they revealed their Ashes Zone, Sky Cart and something we think was called the Ashes Review Centre. Outside of the mainstream media there was the bullshit about Billy the Trumpeter. There was the ridiculous poem and pointless social media hashtag campaigns. There were flags! And anthems! And the Red Arrows! Cricket is usually at its best when it lets the game get on with things itself. Thankfully the game did not go shy.
Peter Siddle’s first spell was wayward and he got smashed around for 27 runs from four overs. He changed ends and what followed was significantly better. His five wickets were spread across a couple of spells, but they came quickly and at important times. Often maligned in Britain due to his punchable face, his vegan diet and his propensity to snarl constantly, his record is actually very good indeed. He has bowled more consistently before than he did today, but 5/50 is a return anyone can be proud of from half a day’s work. That nearly all of England’s wickets came from batsman error says more about the hosts than the visitors, but it was Siddle who has set the game up for an exciting finish (yes, we know it’s only the first day today).
After a typically brief Wattokrieg at the start of the innings, England fought back magnificently – as many would have expected. Steven Finn took two wickets in two balls, both the results of sloppy, frenetic shots, but the real moment, when the crowd roared and the atmosphere came alive, was when Jimmy Anderson dismissed Michael Clarke. No blame can be attributed to the Australian skipper, this was a stunning ball that moved in and straightened to hit the top of off stump. With that, Australia were 22/3 and 210ao began to look a reasonable total.
Once again it was the England bowlers rescuing the batsmen. Joe Root was well-yorked and Ian Bell received a decent delivery, but the rest of the batsmen all played loose shots. The recent trend of the middle order getting to double figures and not going on to make a match-influencing score is becoming worrying – and is really the sort of thing that batting coach Graham Gooch was meant to have fixed when the team were knocking out ‘daddy hundreds’ every other innings.
One other complaint to be made is that in the middle of July, on a day without rain and played mostly under floodlights, the public who paid lots of money for tickets were given only 80 overs of play. Even accounting for the change of innings, that is a disgrace – play could easily have gone on for another 40 minutes to get the full amount of overs played (or of course the officials could speed play up).
Already, the next session is looking vital. England will be confident of securing a lead, but the weather may make the conditions slightly more suitable to batting. It would be a surprise if Stuart Broad (who missed the Australian innings with a bruised shoulder) was not fit to bowl, but he will be needed. Mind you, there is one player standing in England’s way, one man who is capable of taking the game to England and overtaking their total. He needs no introduction. He doesn’t even need a proper name.