Australia v England, 1st Test, Brisbane, 1st day November 23, 2006

Wayward England miss their mark

Andrew Flintoff carried England on the opening day but can't do it all on his own © Getty Images
At least England didn't choose to field. At least Andrew Flintoff's bowling is again world class. At least Kevin Pietersen's slide didn't end his series. At least the weather was amazing. It was not all doom and I've-been-there-before gloom for England.

Australia's habit of dominant starts at the Gabba has given England a horrible reminder of the long, flat road - and pitches - ahead. Visiting teams have had worse beginnings to series, but today's ranked highly and the sloppy trend continued throughout the day. Apart from Flintoff, the bowlers were all under-prepared and the tourists' lack of warm-up games has already sparked terminal concerns.

Steve Harmison's nine-run over to open the series, which included an embarrassing first-ball wide taken by Flintoff in the cordon, was the most high-profile disaster, but he was not alone in suffering false starts. James Anderson replaced Harmison after only two overs and immediately donated 10 runs, but both men were outdone by Ian Bell, whose only offering gave up 12. It's hard enough to win in Australia without allowing dangerous head-starts.

Each session began with a flurry of runs. Australia's post-lunch burst of 26 in three overs overtook the 17 off the morning's opening 18 balls and the visitors struggled to close the gate. Anderson twice leaked nine from the session re-starts and the chance of exerting early control swept away like the supporters drained by the sun.

Comparisons with 2005 will become tiresome - maybe they are already? - but England's greatest strength in the previous series was containment. The group attack surrounded Australia and their batsmen were unsure how their next single would arrive. Stolen of their weapons, they were unable to attack. The feeling has not yet returned.

Only Flintoff operated at a level intense enough to worry the home team and boundary opportunities were taken greedily. England hold the Ashes, but Australia looked like the side with a trophy to defend.

The surface changed when Flintoff bustled in and he twice broke through with dismissals that prevented his side from further bouts of unproductive toil. In a proactive move Flintoff grabbed the second new ball, but only for an over, and he was desperate for meaningful support. Although he did it all last time, Flintoff can't be expected to carry the team during almost every session.

Ricky Ponting is an incredible all-purpose batsman but the ease of his century was a problem for England. Ponting's fourth hundred in his past five Test innings in Australia came from only 136 balls and he never appeared in a hurry. England cannot afford to be so easy on Ponting and his partners if they want to stay in the series.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo