England were completely outplayed in the first Test at the Gabba, and deserved their heavy defeat. But this is a long series, and Alastair Cook’s side have a history of bouncing back. They will need to draw on that over the coming weeks.
On the pitch, the match was won by the Aussie bowlers. Mitchell Johnson was quick and hostile, Harris and Siddle were steady and accurate and Nathan Lyon exploited a bouncy Brisbane pitch and scrambled English minds.
Away from the action, the traditional hostilities between these two old foes have resumed with a bang. Stirred up by Darren Lehmann’s radio rant, the Aussie media – in particular Brisbane’s Courier Mail – went for Stuart Broad. They refused to name Broad, referring to him simply as “a 27-year-old English medium pace bowler”. The paper attracted some fierce criticism for this approach, particularly from rent-a-quote Shane Warne, who described it as “ridiculous” and “childish”. This from the man who named Ian Bell after a character in American Pie and asked Paul Collingwood if his MBE stood for “Must Be Embarrassing”. The legendary leggie seems to be suffering a sense of humour failure in his old age.
I would argue the Courier Mail’s “campaign” was a bit of fun, and actually turned out to be a marketing masterstroke. Editors spend hours scratching their heads over how to entertain and engage their readers, while increasing the reach and circulation of their paper. Very few campaigns in regional media are unique, and most “off-diary” stories are simply recycled ideas. After his eye-catching front pages had been seen around the world, the Courier Mail’s editor, Christopher Dore, issued a po-faced “defence” of his editorial stance. He described Broad as a “wickedly good cricketer,” saying his “dastardly deception” had cost the Aussies the previous series. You can almost picture Mr Dore rubbing his hands together and sniggering behind his desk. The whole thing could not be more of a pantomime if Christopher Biggins had popped up at silly mid off.
Perhaps more relevant to the rest of the series were David Warner’s comments on the third evening of the first Test. “England are on the back foot,” he said. “It does look like they’ve got scared eyes at the moment. The way that Trotty got out today was pretty poor and weak.” Trott’s dismissals in both innings were disappointing, bounced out in inevitable fashion by a rampaging Johnson. It’s a technical problem, highlighted by some excellent bowling. Poor? Definitely. But scared, and weak? As the words came out of his moustachioed mouth, Cricket Australia’s press officer visibly cringed, perhaps recalling Warner’s history. Punching an opponent in a bar. Ranting at journalists on Twitter. Skipping a match he was due to play in to spend a day at the races.
Warner had his day in the sun at the Gabba, backing up his words with a belligerent century. I’m all for players breaking the trend for bland, media managed press conferences. But perhaps he should concentrate on his own game, and leave the “poor” “weak” English to concentrate on theirs. As that great sage Andrew Flintoff once observed, “This game has got a funny way of biting you up the arse.”
As England’s top order came crashing down on Friday afternoon, TV producers raced into the archives to sift through the folder marked “collapses we have known”. After Mike Atherton’s side were skittled for 46 by Ambrose and Walsh at Trinidad in 1994, the selectors kept faith with the same batting line-up for the next Test, the theory being “you got us into this mess, now get us out of it.” Alec Stewart scored two centuries, Angus Fraser took eight wickets and England won. Almost 20 years on, Alastair Cook finds himself in a similarly tricky spot. For the last three Ashes series England have largely had things their own way. Now their backs are against the wall and they must show what they are made of.
An afterthought: Towards the end of the match a stump microphone caught Michael Clarke telling James Anderson to “get ready for a broken fucking arm”. This comment is being reported in isolation and blown up by English newspapers. My view is that all sorts of things get said on the field in the heat of battle, and the players on both sides give as good as they get. No big deal.