July 5, 2001

Australia on top as Ashes series starts with a bang

The Ashes series got off to a thunderous start at Edgbaston with Australia finishing the first day on 132-2 in reply to England's 294 all out.

In a remarkable final session during which England's last-wicket pair put on a hundred and Australia's openers started like trains, 236 runs were scored at 6.84 runs an over. The average rate for the entire day was an astounding 4.93 an over.

It was exhilarating stuff and left Australia holding the balance of power, particularly as Michael Slater is still there on 76 made off 78 balls.

The day had begun explosively after Steve Waugh had won the toss and asked England to bat in humid conditions. He was immediately rewarded when Jason Gillespie disposed of Marcus Trescothick with his first ball for a duck, Shane Warne snapping up the catch at slip.

It was not the last time during the day that Warne, England's scourge for so many years, was to be involved in the action.

The veteran leg spinner had said before the game that he was now merely a back-up bowler for Australia's formidable pace trio of Glenn McGrath, Gillespie and Brett Lee. Whether Warne meant this or was indulging in a little kidology is unknown, but his impact on the day's play was certainly not that of a support bowler, finishing with the figures of five for 71 off 19 overs.

It was Warne who secured the vital breakthrough for Australia after Michael Atherton and Mark Butcher had added a hundred before lunch for the second wicket.

Butcher, recalled to the side because of injuries, had made a century against Australia at Brisbane during the 1997-98 Ashes tour and is enjoying one of the best seasons of his county career. From the outset today he appeared confident and cool despite the sultry conditions and high-pressure situation.

In the fifth over, he hooked McGrath through mid-wicket for four and played an assured game to complement the cautious Atherton who survived a chance on 25 when Australian 'keeper Adam Gilchrist failed to hold on to an edged ball from Brett Lee. Gilchrist had also scuppered a wicket chance in the second over when he reached for an edge off Butcher's bat that would have carried to first slip.

Butcher and Atherton took the total to 106 when Warne was introduced into the attack - with immediate effect. Butcher pushed tentatively at his second delivery to see the ball pop up to silly point where Ricky Ponting took a superb catch diving forward.

The afternoon session brought about an old-style England collapse as they tumbled to 174-7. Gillespie claimed the coveted wicket of Atherton for 57 soon after lunch. He had been hit on the hand by the previous delivery and edged low behind for Mark Waugh to take a wonderful catch in the slips. Then England captain Nasser Hussain was lbw for 13, shouldering arms to McGrath.

Ian Ward produced a couple of well timed off drives off Warne and looked untroubled for the best part of an hour but, attempting to drive at a lifting delivery from McGrath, he played on and was on his way for 23, with England's score 159 for five.

Then Warne took over. Debutant Usman Afzaal was bowled by a ball that turned a foot and the leg-spinner struck again in his next over, having Craig White lbw for six from eight balls.

At tea, Alec Stewart was unbeaten on 19 but England's position of 191 for seven on a pitch that looked ideal for batting seemed a far cry from the lunchtime score of 106-2.

England saw more havoc wreaked by Warne immediately after the interval when Ashley Giles was caught behind attempting to cut him to the boundary.

Darren Gough faced two balls and could not resist trying to pull the third from Warne over mid-wicket but the ball went straight to Gillespie on the boundary. The dismissal handed Warne his fifth wicket of the innings. It was his fifth five-for against England and his 17th in Test cricket.

Gough's departure saw the arrival of Caddick with England on 191-9 but his side's plight seemed only to inspire the Somerset paceman. He signalled his intent by lifting Warne over the mid-wicket boundary for a big six and followed it with a stream of immaculately timed straight drives to advance to a remarkable 49 off 40 deliveries.

At the other end Stewart made a fine 65 off 82 balls that included nine fours. When he was last man out, lbw to McGrath, the pair had put on 103 in fewer than 13 overs.

But Australia were not prepared to let the fireworks end there. Michael Slater and Matthew Hayden opened the innings as if it were a one-day game.

Slater cut Gough's first ball to the boundary and that set the pattern for the partnership. The pair blasted their way to 98 off 97 balls before Giles dismissed Hayden for 35 off 41 balls thanks to a stunning diving catch by White at mid-wicket.

That brought in the in-form Ponting and it will be of great relief to England that they managed to dismiss him shortly before the close, Gough trapping him lbw for 11. Mark Waugh safely saw off nine deliveries to bring a pulsating day's play to a close.