By Jonny Leighfield
After a promising first three days that gave England fans some cause to believe their side might end that infamous Gabba hoodoo, there was an all too familiar lack of fight that ultimately resulted in another Australia win on home soil.
A sixth consecutive Ashes victory in Australia wasn’t straight forward for the hosts though, as midway through the result still hung in the balance and debutantes that had question marks over their heads regarding form and selection appeared to have answered their critics.
Mark Stoneman, James Vince and Dawid Malan all passed 50, with Hampshire man Vince scoring a resilient 83 before being skillfully run out by the outspoken Nathan Lyon.
Yet, a miserly 195 all out in England’s second innings – with captain Joe Root the only batsman to reach 50 – set up a relatively straightforward run chase which the Australian openers David Warner and Cameron Bancroft knocked off with ease.
England will have a lot of homework to do ahead of the second Test in Adelaide at the weekend but here are five things we learned from the first Test in Woolloongabba.
Off-spinner Lyon stepped up the pre-series mind games by stating he would “end careers” in the England side and that Joe Root’s men still had nightmares about facing Mitchell Johnson’s bouncers. Many people, of an English persuasion, retorted and said that the bowler, sometimes known as ‘Garry’, better have a good series in order to save his own career. Lyon duly responded, taking five wickets in the match.
It is only one Test down admittedly but Lyon outshone Moeen Ali in the spinning stakes and was also excellent in the field proving that he can walk the walk after talking the talk.
While Root would have been disappointed with his personal second innings total in Brisbane, he should certainly be encouraged by the way he set his team up in the field. He was proactive and inventive in testing conditions, often when it might have been safer to simply place fielder’s in orthodox spots.
And even if England are whitewashed over the next six weeks, Root has shown enough skill and bravery already to demonstrate he is the best man for this job in the long run. The Yorkshireman has not let the captaincy taint his batting too badly either having hit 13 half-centuries in his last 14 test matches with plenty of style and attacking intent.
At 302 all out, England appeared to have set a competitive first innings total. At 76-4, Australia were deep in the mire. But where Joe Root under-performed, Australia’s skipper rose to the fore and an unbeaten 141 turned a potential drubbing into a winnable position for the Baggy Greens. The fact that it was his 21st century in just 57 Tests is worth mention all on its own.
If England are to get out of Australia with the little urn still in tow, they must take his wicket early and now allow him to dictate the scoring. The entire match turned on one man’s innings and consequently the first Test was lost for the tourists. England can’t afford to be saying the series was lost for the same reason.
In the past, England’s number seven and eight have saved them countless times by adding valuable runs when they were in perilous positions. In the 2017/18 Ashes series though, this is unlikely to happen. The tourists lost six for 56 in the first knock and six for 82 at the second time of asking.
While it’s unhelpful to point out the absence of a certain all-rounder, it is fairly clear that England seem to be lacking one in their squad at the moment. Someone who can muck in with both disciplines and allow Moeen Ali and Jonny Bairstow to bat in more natural positions. Ali has often batted well at seven as he has been afforded the freedom of swinging like a rusty gate while Bairstow appears to be more comfortable if he is paired with an accomplished batsman.
England’s seam bowlers scored 59 runs between them in both innings. In contrast, Australia’s bowling unit scored 63 in one. An extra 50 runs from the bowlers can be the difference in a result but unless the tail starts playing the short ball better, the pressure will continue to increase on England’s batsmen.
The inclusion of Yo-Yo batsman Shaun Marsh, ostracized wicket-keeper Tim Paine and debutante opener Cameron Bancroft left England fans feeling fairly optimistic ahead of the first ball. Many thought they would be easy targets for the England bowlers and would only aid the tourists’ quest to return home with the Urn. So far however, it has been far from the case.
Marsh, on his eighth return to the Test side, compiled a vital 51 to help put on 99 runs with Steve Smith at a key stage in Australia’s first innings, while Paine recovered from a dropped catch to produce a sharp stumping of Moeen Ali that broke up a threatening second innings partnership with Jonny Bairstow. Bancroft recovered from scoring just five in the first innings to hit the winning runs in an unbeaten 82.