And so concluded the first Test of what now looks to be a very long and difficult Ashes tour for England. They were outplayed by a much better, stronger Australian team who capitalised at the most important times and had that conviction that England lacked. It will take incredible character for England to bounce back so quickly from what was, in the end a crushing loss. While conditions in the Day-night test in Adelaide may suit their bowlers a bit more, the psychological damage from losing the first test in disappointing fashion will remain for the players.
It had started relatively well for England, who were grinding out their first innings by playing proper old school test cricket. Barely scoring at more than 2.5 an over, England were wearing down the Australian bowling attack who were struggling to make as much of an impact with their pace on such a docile pitch. In the morning of the second day, it was looking very encouraging for England who found themselves at 240-4 with Malan and Moeen set at the crease and looking like making big scores. They had been boosted by the impressive Mark Stoneman with his 53 and James Vince making a very attractive 83 before being run out by a superb bit of fielding from Nathan Lyon. However, as they have done previously, England failed against short bowling, and succumbed to bouncers and the leg side field trap. Dawid Malan, after looking so solid for his first 50 runs could not help himself going after the short pull, and top edged one from Starc to Marsh in the deep, kick starting the infamous England collapse. Bairstow, Broad and Jake Ball all fell to the short ball after the tactic had been employed by Steve Smith, and England were swiftly all out for 302 after looking set to make in excess of 400.
Despite the setback towards the end of their innings, England came out firing in the field. Stuart Broad dismissed Cameron Bancroft for 5 on debut, and he and Jimmy Anderson were by far the best bowlers, hitting the right lines and lengths constantly, tying down the Australian batsmen in the process. Usman Khawaja was out cheaply against spin yet again, exposing flaws in his technique that have troubled him so much in the subcontinent. David Warner could never really get going in the innings due to good bowling and field placements from Joe Root, and he was out for 26 caught at short mid-wicket. Root made a good impression as captain, setting unusual but effective field placements for different batsman, and being very pro-active during the innings. It certainly felt like a breath of fresh air for an England captain to be so inventive as previous captains such as Cook and Strauss definitely would not have taken that approach. When Anderson had Peter Handscomb trapped lbw, Australia were 76-4 and in danger of conceding a considerable deficit of runs at the end of the innings. However, the captain Steve Smith exemplified just why he is the number one ranked Test batsman in the world, playing a very patient innings throughout, and showing England how to bat against the short ball. He left the ball fantastically, and picked when to take the bowlers on. He had help from the other end in Shaun Marsh first of all who scored a defiant 50, and surprisingly Pat Cummins who made 40 off 120 balls to support his captain in getting his century. When Cummins came to the crease, England had their tail up, and the Aussies were 200-7 with Starc having just been caught and bowled by Stuart Broad. England however, let the game slip away. The frustrating partnership between the two New South Wales players just could not be broken, and the bowling from Chris Woakes and Jake Ball looked so ineffective and easy for the batsmen to play. This was a common theme throughout, with only Stuart Broad and James Anderson looking like the bowlers who could actually take wickets. The partnership allowed Smith to reach his 21st Test century in just his 57th match and saw him take his batting average in Tests to a ridiculous 61. Smith finished 141 not out and Australia were all out for 328 giving them a 26 run lead going into England’s second innings.
The last session of day three proved to be very tough for England’s batsmen. Ideally, they would have seen off Starc and Hazlewood with the new ball and batted sensibly to the close of play, setting them up to set Australia a huge target on Day Five. In reality, it was much different. Alastair Cook was out to the short ball, caught on the fine leg boundary for 7, and James Vince soon followed, edging behind to the slips, giving Josh Hazlewood his second wicket, and Australia the start they desired. Mark Stoneman and Joe Root saw England through to the close, but showed huge weaknesses against the short ball, with Stoneman being peppered with bouncers from Pat Cummins, and Joe Root getting smacked on the helmet from a vicious bumper from Mitchell Starc. Going into the fourth day, England needed to not lose their heads and get all out cheaply. It started brightly, with Stoneman and Root looking stable against the fast bowling, but the ever impressive Nathan Lyon bagged the wicket of Stoneman for 27, and England looked up against it. Lyon followed this up with the wicket of Dawid Malan for 4, and the dismissal summed up England’s problems with the bat. Whilst Australia took the attack to Moeen Ali, England were so defensive against Lyon, and allowed him to get on top of them right from the start. It could be argued that Lyon did bowl very well, making it harder for England to attack, but this could have been avoided if they had got after him early, and not allowed him to settle. Root carried on bravely and reached his half century. But that is where it ended for Root and perhaps England’s chances of winning the Test. Hazlewood pinned Root lbw, the dismissal a replica of Root’s first innings failure as well. The dismissal has been more and more common for Root in the past year, with bowlers going slightly wider of the crease and bowling it full at his pads, getting him lbw. After Root, the hopes rested on Bairstow and Moeen Ali, but just as every batsman had done in the Test for England, they got starts and couldn’t capitalise on it. Moeen was out for 40 in controversial circumstances and Bairstow was out for 42 yet again to the short ball. England were in tatters and the tail was exposed against Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins. As expected, the tail did not wag, and England were all out for 195, setting Australia 170 to win against a nonthreatening bowling attack.
When Australia came out to bat, the damage to England had already been done. Mentally they were shot, and they lacked any penetration with the ball, allowing Warner and Bancroft to score freely up until the close of play, leaving Australia 110-0 at the end of Day 4. Leading into the final day, there was newspaper reports of an off field incident involving Jonny Bairstow, who is alleged to have headbutted Cameron Bancroft, giving England even more problems. Australia romped home to a 10 wicket victory, and England must have been thoroughly disappointed with their performance in this match. No player stood up and made a big hundred, or made an impact with the ball enough to turn the game in their favour. Whilst Australia had Steven Smith and Nathan Lyon, England didn’t have anyone. The absence of Ben Stokes is even more apparent now, with every Englishman wishing they had the all rounder’s services in this match and series.
England now go onto Adelaide where the pitch will more than likely be quicker, and play into the bowlers hands a bit more. This could be taken as a positive for their bowlers, who will be encouraged by more movement and pace, or it could be taken as a severe worry for the batsman, who looked in real trouble against short bowling on a slow pitch, and who will have to face a barrage of short bowling from the Aussie quicks. I do think that England’s batting relies on how well they play Nathan Lyon. He is a fantastic bowler, and may well be the best spinner across all conditions in Tests, but England have to find a way to counter attack, and put the pressure on him, to really exploit the fact that the Aussies will more than likely only have four bowlers to use. The next Test will probably decide England’s fate in the series. If they win, they have a huge chance of pouncing on the Aussie’s mentality, and look to finish them off, but if they lose, then it will be an almost impossible challenge for them to get anything out of the series.