Recent Ashes openers July 20, 2005

First impressions and all that

Australia have tended to start the stronger ... and continue that way as well

The first day of an Ashes series is arguably the biggest moment of any Anglo-Australian cricketer's life. But, as Andrew McGlashan demonstrates, the recent history of opening-day encounters shows that Australia have tended to start the stronger ... and continue that way as well.

Nasser Hussain rues his infamous decision to bowl first at Brisbane © Getty Images

Brisbane 1986-87
Before the first Test a British newspaper famously said of England: "There are only three things wrong with this team: they can't bat, they can't bowl and they can't field". They had suffered a poor preparation against typically fired-up states and had a side which included stars reportedly passed their best. However, England ended the first day at Brisbane on 198 for 2 - nothing extraordinary but vital in blunting the Australian attack and media criticism. Bill Athey - who had struggled for form in the warm-up matches - battled his way to 76 and Mike Gatting, the captain, made 61, on the tour that was to seal his place in English cricket folklore .

Headingley 1989
Australia were the underdogs going into this series but, not for the first time, a captain erred at Headingley and stuck the opposition in. This time David Gower inserted Australia after packing the England side with seam bowlers, but was left to rue his decision. Phil DeFreitas and Neil Foster managed an early strike each but Mark Taylor laid the foundations for a huge total, ending the day on 96 not out. Allan Border was at his cussed best, adding 117 with Taylor, as Gower became increasingly short of options. Although this first day would not finish as England's most painful of the series it certainly set the tone, not just for this series, but for an entire generation.

Brisbane 1990-91
A career-threatening hand injury for Graham Gooch threw England into turmoil before a ball had been bowled, and without his talismanic captaincy, the infection spread throughout England's batting. On a bowler-friendly Gabba pitch, England struggled to 194 all out despite at one stage being 117 for 2. Bruce Reid provided most of the problems with his booming left-arm inswingers, taking four wickets, including Gower, who top-scored with 61. The missed opportunity on the opening day was to be a recurring theme throughout the tour, as England continually failed to nail Australia when they had a glimmer of a chance.

Old Trafford 1993
Under Border's leadership, Australia had lifted themselves out of the malaise that surrounded them during the 1980s, and the nucleus of a potential world-beating team had been formed. Another part of the jigsaw, Michael Slater, made his Test debut at Old Trafford and on the first day added 128 with Taylor in a manner that would become wearily familiar to England's bowlers. Phil Tufnell and Peter Such, who was also on debut, kept England in the match by reducing Australia from 183 for 1 to 232 for 5. Taylor was caught and bowled by Such for 124 but the success of England's spinners should have served as a warning - this match was to become the story of a certain Australian legspinner.

Brisbane 1994-95
England arrived in Australia on the back of Devon Malcolm's 9 for 57 against South Africa at The Oval but Malcolm missed the Brisbane Test with chicken pox. In his absence, DeFreitas led the attack, and served up two juicy long-hops in his first over. Slater dispatched them and had smashed 176 by the time he lobbed a catch to Gatting off Gooch in the closing overs of the day - the combined age of England's fielders (78) summed up one of England's many failings of the tour. Darren Gough was England's only shining light, dismissing David Boon and Michael Bevan, but Australia were 329 for 4 at the close and England had been given their first long day of a long, tough tour.

Edgbaston 1997
After an hour and a half the score was 54 for 8 - the Australian score that is - as Malcolm, Gough and Andrew Caddick stunned them with pace and bounce on a hot, sultry Edgbaston morning. Taylor had decided to bat - expecting the pitch to deteriorate - but it was their batting that crumbled. Skittled for 118, Australia quickly had England 50 for 3 and spectators were checking their refund policy for the third day. But Nasser Hussain and Graham Thorpe began constructing England's best partnership of the 1990s and by the close England already led by 82. England went on to complete a nine-wicket win despite centuries from Taylor and Greg Blewett but as false dawns go, this was huge. Australia went on to win the series 3-2.

Brisbane 1998-99
England had sealed a 2-1 win against South Africa - their first in a five-Test series since the 1986-87 Ashes - and Alec Stewart had an attack of Gough, Dominic Cork and Angus Fraser that he thought could challenge Australia. For two-thirds of the opening day they did, and at 178 for 5 England were a wicket away from taking the honours. But Fraser and Hussain grassed a chance each during the final hour as Steve Waugh and Ian Healy launched one of their trademark fightbacks. Australia closed on 246 for 5 so the match was still in the balance, but England knew they had missed their chance and Australia, unsurprisingly, made them pay.

Edgbaston 2001
Australia grabbed the series by the scruff of England's neck and never let go. England had started with genuine hope after winning in Pakistan and Sri Lanka but a demoralising one-day series and a mountain of injuries were hardly ideal preparation. England approached lunch on 106 for 1, but four balls before the break Shane Warne dismissed Mark Butcher. Australia were on a roll, although they were halted by a barnstorming last-wicket stand of 103 between Stewart and Caddick. However, Gough's opening over went for 18 and any advantage England had was gone. Slater flayed the attack to all parts as 427 runs were scored in the day. The excitement didn't last; the Ashes were over in 11 days.

Brisbane 2002-03
Nasser Hussain made the inexplicable decision to bowl first - although at least one team-mate had suggested this might be the right course to take - and Australia cashed in on a perfect batting track, wayward England bowling and shocking fielding. England did manage to remove Justin Langer before lunch, courtesy of Simon Jones, but during the afternoon session Jones's Test career was brought to a 16-month halt as he ruptured his knee ligaments attempting a slide near the boundary. It had one-sided enough with a full quota of bowlers, but shorn of their fastest option, England had nowhere to hide. Matthew Hayden ended the day on 186, Ricky Ponting made a classy 123, and a close-of-play score of 364 for 2 gave the Australian media enough ammunition for the rest of the tour.

Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo