Australia v England, 1st Test, The Ashes 2017-18, 1st day, Brisbane November 23, 2017

Assured Vince and Stoneman settle early nerves

For most of the first two sessions the two England batsmen - with fewer than a dozen Tests between them - quietened the shrill of the pre-series hype showered upon Australia's pace attack

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There be no dragons here.

Sure, Australia have a good attack. It's an attack that demands respect and could win them the Ashes.

But, as two men with less than a dozen Tests between them shepherded England through most of the first two sessions of this encounter, it became clear that much of the pre-series talk about the potential ferocity of this attack - talk that it is quicker than the version from 2013-14; talk that it might be the best Australian seam attack in history; talk that England would be blown away, intimidated and cowed - was exposed for the hubristic baloney it was. They're good bowlers, for sure, and they never let England get away from them. But they aren't the fire-breathing dragons we were promised. And they aren't Mitchell Johnson. As Bob Dylan put it, "Propaganda, all is phony."

The first ball of the day was taken at ankle height. Later a couple of bouncers surprised - and inconvenienced - England with their lack of bounce. The seamers were sharp, certainly, but they didn't touch 150 kph. And they generated little movement - in the air or off the pitch - despite a humid day and slightly tacky surface that, initially at least, offered Nathan Lyon some turn.

Indeed, Lyon was the most threatening bowler for much of the day. Called into the attack after about 100-minutes of play - a reflection on the lack of depth in a three-man seam attack that no longer has the likes of Shane Watson to support it - he teased and tested in a series of fine spells and might have had James Vince caught behind on 68 had Tim Paine held on to the chance. But if you had told England that an offspinner was going to be their chief worry on the first morning of a Gabba Test, they would have breathed a sigh of relief.

None of this means England are necessarily going to win the Ashes. None of it means they will capitalise on the start or even achieve a commanding first-innings total. But it does show they shouldn't be blown away. It does show they have nothing to fear in the way they did in 2013-14. It does provide grounds for hope.

There are caveats. This pitch, despite its reputation, was relatively slow (by Australian standards; it was still pretty quick by comparison to England) - a result of the mild and wet weather Brisbane had experienced ahead of the game. It will quicken if the sun ever comes out and the Australian bowlers may enjoy that increased pace. But, by then, England's batsmen should have built some confidence. And they have already shown that this Australia attack cannot take the pitch out of the equation, as the Johnson-inspired version did at Lord's in 2015.

© Getty Images

The manner in which Mark Stoneman and Vince dealt with the early exchanges was especially encouraging for England. The early loss of Alastair Cook - pushing at one of the few deliveries that swung with the new ball, his feet stuck in concrete - meant there were two men at the crease with one Test half-century between them. It was exactly the opportunity Australia wanted.

But did they fluster or flail? Not at all. With an admirable calm, they were watchful, patient and assured. They eased England into the series with a partnership that will have infused the dressing room with confidence and steadied the nerves that might have been fluttering. The ghosts of 2013-14 - Jonathan Trott's painful experience et al - were largely laid to rest.

You can see why the England selectors like Vince. Sure, his statistics are modest - he averaged 32.94 in the 2017 County Championship season and went into this, his eighth Test, with a top score of 42 in this format and an average below 20 - but he has such time on the ball and so many scoring options that his potential is undeniable.

That range of stroke enables him to release pressure. So when Lyon was in the middle of a fine spell, Vince's skip down the pitch and flossing cover drive won him breathing room. And when Cummins's excellent post-lunch spell appeared to be building to a breakthrough, Vince's gorgeous back-foot force eased the tension. And, most of all, he has a cover drive with which you could fall in love.

We knew he had the shots, though. We knew he had the style. What was less obvious was whether he had the temperament and the substance. On Thursday, he left the ball outside off stump with good discipline (generally, anyway, he had a bit of a flash at one well outside off from Cummins when he was on 66) without forsaking any scoring opportunities and reached for the over-pitched ball without getting drawn into throwing his hands. Yes, there will be tougher tests on days where the ball moves more laterally, but if this selection - and it was a remarkable punt - works out, the selectors will deserve a huge amount of credit.

Pat Cummins is ecstatic after bowling Mark Stoneman for 51 © Getty Images

His run-out - somewhat unfortunate as the ball bounced kindly for the fielder - was frustrating and meant England did not fully capitalise on his hard work. But it shouldn't have negated it, either. It showed what could be achieved.

Stoneman was less eye-catching but just as impressive. Not blessed with quite the range of strokes as his partner, he had to wait longer for his opportunities (his 50 took 150 balls) but proved adept at putting away the over-pitched deliveries, anything on his legs and pinching singles regularly. He has reached 50 in every innings on tour and this partnership - 125 - was 14 more than England's highest during the 2013-14 debacle.

It was the calm that was most reassuring. We've seen inexperienced England players of the past wilt in the Gabba's glare but Stoneman - 30-years-old and the veteran of more than 150 first-class games - knows his game and has waited a long time for this opportunity. Besides, you get the impression he would react to triumph and disaster with the same phlegmatic shrug. Stoneman seems an unusually appropriate name. It's a perfect opener's temperament.

As the day wore on, there was some suggestion that England perhaps should have tried to score a bit more quickly. Don't believe a word of it. This was exactly the sort of low-drama partnership they required to settle nerves and ease into the series. Time at the crease now is time spent putting miles in the legs of a three-man attack; time softening the ball; time chipping away at the belief of the hosts and their supporters and investing in making life a little easier for the free-scoring middle-order. For all the talk of the hostile Brisbane atmosphere, it was more Labattoir than Gabbattoir for most of the first couple of sessions as a full-house - with 35,144 in attendance - was absorbed by the contest. Truly, on this example, Edgbaston offers a more hostile environment for Australian teams.

And yes, if England get to Adelaide with this series all-square, they will be pretty pleased. The last time that happened, remember, they won the Ashes.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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