THERE’S nothing quite like the first day of an Ashes series to get the butterflies fluttering. Much has been made in recent times of the importance of opening exchanges – Slater v Defreitas, Harmison v Langer, Harmison to second slip, Strauss to gully. None of those moments had much of an impact on the rest of their respective series, but they stick in our minds.
So much planning, preparation, analysis and “sport science” goes into an Ashes summer. But when the players take the field on the first morning all that goes out of the window. It’s every man for himself, a madcap rush of adrenaline, aggression and nervous energy. The first day goes to the team that controls and uses those factors.
This England team does not start Test series well, and this morning did nothing to dispel that theory. They were skittish, twitchy, keen to impose themselves but wafting and flicking at deliveries they should have left alone. There was swing, but it was not the swing that got wickets. It was the danger of swing, the seed planted in the batsman’s mind. Cook got drawn into a drive outside off. Trott looked comfortable and fluent until dragging a wide one on to his stumps. Bell hung his bat at a decent ball. Pietersen and Prior drove loosely. Root and Bairstow were undone by excellent yorkers, but the latter’s tendency to close the bat face – spotted by eagle-eyed observers earlier in the year – got him in trouble again.
Siddle and Pattinson were the pick of the Aussie bowlers when they got it right, but there’s nothing there to worry Alastair Cook’s side in the long-term. When England came to bowl under the same heavy sky, conditions were perfect for the hosts to hit back. Finn was fast and hostile, at his best when pitching the ball up, while Anderson swung the ball both ways. His dismissal of Michael Clarke for a duck must rate as one of his best.
Steven Smith, a risky selection at number five in the Aussie order, was the only batsman all day to use his nervous energy to good effect, pouncing on anything short and scampering quick singles.
Over the next 10 Test matches there will be miles of column inches and hours of broadcast time dedicated to technical assessments and examinations of these two oldest of enemies. There is an awful lot of cricket yet to be played, but for now we can look back on a day of brilliant, crazy, panicked cricket that had viewers on the edge of their seats and coaches with their heads in their hands.