England blaze a trail but Aussies refuse to wilt
An extraordinary day, which began with Glenn McGrath being stretchered off the field during the pre-match warm-up, ended with England bowled out for 407, scored at over five an over amid a blaze of boundaries. To add to the frenzied atmosphere, each time England threatened to run (or sprint) away with the match Australia surged back in typical fashion.
Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss set the tone by adding 112 before lunch but it was Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen who combined for the most electric passage of play, adding 103 in thrilling fashion as counterattack was followed by counterattack. All summer the thought of these two powerhouse strokemakers combining had whetted the appetite of the public and finally they had a chance to revel in it as Australia missed the controlling and calming effect of McGrath.
Pietersen was more assured at the outset of the partnership, showing all the good judgment and technique that he had displayed at Lord's. One shot, a whip past mid-on from a ball a foot wide of off-stump would have left Sachin Tendulkar drooling. Flintoff has been overshadowed by Pietersen so far this summer but stepped back into the limelight with a stunning array of shots - some well-executed, others full of luck. He hit two sixes over cow corner off Shane Warne but the contest to savour was with Brett Lee.
Lee steamed in and sent down a barrage of bouncers to Flintoff, who opted to play them rather than duck. He cleared deep square-leg three times - once without even looking at the ball - and when Lee decided to pitch the ball up he punched them through the covers with superb timing.
The fireworks were ended in the first over after tea as Jason Gillespie, who showed his best rhythm of the tour, enticed Flintoff to play a flat-footed waft at a wide ball and edge a catch through to Adam Gilchrist for his 250th Test wicket. Geraint Jones couldn't produce any fireworks of his own has he received one of the few balls that rose sharply off the surface and Gilchrist snaffled another of his four catches for the innings.
At 293 for 6, Australia would have fancied their chances of rolling England over for less than 350 given the way the tail folded in the second innings at Lord's - when none of the last four batsmen managed a run. Here, admittedly on an easier surface, they exhibited much more backbone. Ashley Giles took on Lee's short ball - adding 49 with Pietersen - before he swept once too often at Warne.
Once Giles fell, Pietersen opted to open his shoulders but perhaps too early given that England had two batsmen still to come. After another six over midwicket off Lee that defied the laws of physics he picked out Simon Katich attempting a repeat but, as at Lord's, his innings had oozed class.
Even Matthew Hoggard, Steve Harmison and Simon Jones unfurled their shots as the sky-high boundary count rocketed to 55 fours and 10 sixes. Warne ended with 4 for 116, as all the Australian bowlers received fierce punishment, especially Lee who conceded his runs at six-and-a-half an over.
The bat-wielding was not just left in the hands of England's middle-order though and they were grateful to at last have had some sort of platform to build from. Lee and Gillespie struggled to maintain the 'McGrath line' and Trescothick located his cover-drive from the outset. Strauss was less convincing but slowly began to find his feet - and his footwork - and the introduction of Warne into the attack freed him up.
Strauss biffed him back over his head, then slog-swept to the midwicket boundary. Trescothick joined the fray and straight-drove a maximum. But as is so often the case Warne produced a bit of magic as a ripping leg-break beat Strauss's attempted cut shot just before lunch.
However, that didn't slow the scoring as Trescothick and Vaughan brought up their fifty partnership in only 5.3 overs. But then wickets began to fall at a pace to match the runs with Australia grabbing three in 27 balls.
Kasprowicz, the pick of the pacemen on his last-minute return to the Test team, induced Trescothick to fish outside the off stump, 10 short of his first century against Australia and then, three balls later, removed Bell with a perfect outswinger. Bell cut a forlorn figure as he trudged back to the dressing-room on his home ground, after completing his third single-figure score of the series.
Vaughan joined the post-lunch procession as, with consolidation required, he sent a spiralling top-edge to Brett Lee at fine leg, giving Gillespie his first wicket of the series. England were 193 for 4 and the half-way point of the opening day had not been reached but that was nothing compared to the spine-tingling assault by Flintoff and Pietersen - in an afternoon session that brought 157 runs in 27 overs. England couldn't bat that well in the one-day series.
Ricky Ponting will be scratching his head in the pavilion - as most of his bowlers were on the pitch - as to what to make of bowling England out in under a day for 407, but the pitch does not contain any demons and Australia will be aiming to pile on the runs. As first days go this will take some beating, but that was said about the last Test. It's certainly been a case of anything Lord's can do, Edgbaston can do better.
Andrew Strauss b Warne 48 (112 for 1)
Beaten by a ripping leg-break as he attempted to cut
Marcus Trescothick c Gilchrist b Kasprowicz 90 (164 for 2)
Fished outside off stump
Ian Bell c Gilchrist b Kasprowicz 6 (170 for 3)
Edged a good outswinger
Michael Vaughan c Lee b Gillespie 24 (187 for 4)
Top-edged hook to fine leg
Andrew Flintoff c Gilchrist b Gillespie 68 (290 for 5)
Pushed away from his body
Geraint Jones c Gilchrist b Kasprowicz 1 (293 for 6)
Edged one that lifted and seamed away
Ashley Giles lbw b Warne 23 (342 for 7)
Missed a sweep, hit on the boot
Kevin Pietersen c Katich b Lee 71 (348 for 8)
Hoisted to cow corner, looking for another maximum
Steve Harmison b Warne 17 (375 for 9)
Bamboozled by slider
Matthew Hoggard lbw b Warne 16 (407 all out)
Missed an attempted sweep
Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo