July 7, 2001

Alec Stewart: Blazing start to Ashes contest

Alec Stewart
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Well, after all the build-up, the speculation and the media hype, the Ashes series is finally under way. England, undefeated in five Test series, have locked horns with the best team in the world, and the encounter could hardly have got off to a more entertaining start.

It's fair to say that our preparations were disrupted, but the two injuries (to Graham Thorpe and Michael Vaughan) didn't amount to a crisis. They presented two opportunities - one for a player who's already acquainted with the England set-up, Mark Butcher, and the other for a player to come in for the first time - Nottinghamshire's Usman Afzaal.

The first day was unusual - sad though it was to lose Marcus Trescothick to the seventh ball, Butcher and Michael Atherton did really well to steady the ship with such a positive partnership. Then we had another of our collapses, but just when it looked as though we might be dismissed for less than 200, Andrew Caddick came in at No. 11 to play the innings of his life. When he arrived at the crease I urged him to be positive, not simply blocking, and my word how he responded! He cracked the bowling to all parts of the ground; it was the perfect innings for the situation, and the Edgbaston crowd loved every minute. From my point of view I was very pleased not to be left stranded on 20-odd not out; it was nice to get some runs and with Caddy blazing away at the other end, I had the chance to play a significant innings of my own.

With Michael Slater opening the batting for Australia, it was no surprise that they came out guns blazing. It was an amazing end to an extraordinary day, and gave even more entertainment to the crowd.

Seeing the back of Slater so early on the second day was just what the doctor ordered, but what can you say about Stephen Waugh? He simply showed once again why he's one of the best batsmen in the world - his mental strength is absolutely phenomenal. Twin brother Mark was less fluent, and plainly not on top of his game, but we gave him every opportunity to stay there. I missed a difficult stumping chance and Trescothick couldn't hold on to a catch at second slip - the bottom line is that you can't afford such misses when you're up against players of this quality.

Australia are ahead on points after two days, and we need quick wickets to get back on terms. Nasser Hussain's captained the team well and it's good to see him restored to the side - and I'm not missing the captaincy too much after handing back the reins!