Where the Test turned

With England facing a heavy defeat in the first Test at the Gabba, we take a look at where things went wrong for the tourists (and right for Australia).

Lyon's bite
The potency of Australia's spinner, Nathan Lyon, meant Australia's three-man seam attack were never asked to work so hard that their own potency was diminished. Indeed, there were times when Lyon was the most dangerous of the bowlers and his final match figures of 5 for 145 did not flatter him at all. Crucially, four of those wickets were batsmen in the top six (the other was Chris Woakes) and all four were left-handers. It gave Australia time to rest and rotate their seamers without allowing much respite for the England batsmen.

Lyon's success contrasted with Moeen Ali's display. Moeen, struggling with a cut finger, failed to gain anything like the same turn or bounce and was hit out of the attack in the second innings after he attempted to bowl with a finger glued in place. Strapping on a spinning finger is prohibited.

Perhaps, had Moeen been fully fit, it might have been different. But the cut on his spinning finger, sustained on the second day after he bowled with a ball just eight overs old and found the Kookuburra seam unusually abrasive on fingers unhardened by bowling in warm-up games (he missed the first couple of matches as he was suffering from a side strain), might have diluted his effectiveness somewhat. Either way, Lyon looked far more dangerous.

Conversion woes
Ahead of this match, Trevor Bayliss, the England coach, made the observation that England needed "160s not 60s". So it proved as they saw seven men (across both innings) reach 38 but none make more than 83. Only one of those went beyond 56.

The most frustrating aspect of that statistic is that several of those wickets owed quite a bit to batsman error. The wicket of Dawid Malan, for example, precipitated the first-innings collapse when he top-edged a hook to long leg. Equally, James Vince was run-out in the first innings when he could have made a match-defining total, while Jonny Bairstow upper-cut to third man in the second innings. All were avoidable errors.

No one is guilty more often in this regard than Joe Root. He reaches 50 every 2.4 innings on average, which is more than any of the other "Big Five" in Test cricket (Smith, Kohli, Warner and Williamson are the others) but converts the fewest of them. Smith, for example, scores a century, on average, every fifth innings, while Root reached the mark every 8.6 innings.

Root has now been dismissed 29 times between 51 and 90 in Test cricket and, in 2017 alone, four times between 50 and 59. From the moment he was out on the fourth day - to be fair, he was the victim of some good bowling - Australia's victory felt inevitable.

The good news for England is they're already doing much of the hard work: getting established and surviving the first 30-minutes. But if they're going to challenge in this series, their batsmen are going to have to capitalise on their starts. They have to be more disciplined and ruthless.

Two tails
Clearly the onus for scoring the bulk of the runs must lie with the batsman. But just as everyone in the team has to contribute in the field, so everyone needs to make some sort of contribution with the bat and the contrast between the performances of the tail was a key feature in this match.

When Australia were reduced to 209 for seven in their first innings, England had hopes of taking a first innings lead of anything up to 70. As it was, however, Pat Cummins lent his captain excellent support in an eighth-wicket stand of 66, while the final two also helped Smith add another 53 runs. That's a total of 119 for the final three wickets.

Now compare that to England. In the first innings they lost their final six wickets for 56 runs (246 for four to 302 all out) and their final three for 32. In the second they lost their final five wickets for 40 runs (155 for five to 195 all out) and their final three for just one run.

Nor did that look an especially unlikely outcome. In Stuart Broad, Jake Ball and James Anderson, England have a tail that looks as if will struggle with the Australian pace attack throughout the series while by contrast, Cummins looks an assured, accomplished batsman.

That lack of belief in England's final three, in particular, has knock-on effects. Bairstow was dismissed in both innings by strokes that look hideous on replay but which deserve some mitigation in the knowledge that they were only played once he was left with those last three for company. He knew he didn't have long to make runs and played some reckless shots as a consequence.

Is there a solution? England have the option of picking Craig Overton, who is in the squad as a reserve bowler and has a first-class hundred to his name, or even Mark Wood, who is with the England Lions squad and is a better batsman than Ball. Overton's three ducks in the warm-up matches don't suggest a vastly different outcome, though. There's a certain ginger all-rounder kicking his heels in England who might have made a difference, but there's nothing to be gained by dwelling on that.

Speed limited
England's seamers bowled, on the whole, very well. James Anderson and Stuart Broad, in particular, probed and prodded and tested in wonderfully sustained spells of fast-medium seam bowling. But there's the rub: in conditions where there is little seam movement and almost no swing, their weapons are subtle variations and persistence. That is great, but it doesn't compare - on pitches like this - with outright pace. Particularly when it comes to finishing off the tailenders.

Maybe, had Root had a fast bowler to call upon when Australia were 7 for 209, England may have been able to emerge with meaningful first-innings lead. And maybe, had England's tail felt more comfortable settling in against bowlers who offered little physical threat, they might have added valuable runs down the order. Either way, Australia's stock of fast bowlers may be relatively shallow, but it is deeper than England's and it could be a defining characteristic of this series.

Smith's focus
The biggest difference between the sides was the Australian captain. The only man to make a century in the match, Steven Smith showed the virtues of restraint and denial that remain the hallmarks of some of the best Test batting. While it is true that he is a supremely talented player, this was an innings built as much on his hunger and determination as it was on his hand-eye coordination. Compare, for example, his level of denial - refusing to be drawn into the aggressive strokes England attempted to lure him into - in the nine-and-a-half-hour innings and Alastair Cook's decision to attempt to hook in the final hour of play on day three. Not many England batsmen can replicate Smith's talent, but they can replicate his desire.

Luke-warm warm-ups
A controversial area. While Cricket Australia has a strong point when it suggests the level of preparation its team receives in England is every bit as moderate as that experienced by England here - Australian teams very rarely play at Test venues ahead of the Ashes, for example, and very often play sides in Division Two of the County Championship who rest some of their players - there is no doubt that England came into this game slightly uncooked.

Only in Perth when they faced Nathan Coulter-Nile did England experienced any pace in the warm-up games, while the surfaces they played on - even in Perth - were unusually slow. Meanwhile, the opposition was modest: notwithstanding a final day in Townsville which saw two young men record their maiden first-class centuries, the CA XI was some way below the standard of county teams Australia faced on the Ashes tour of 2015. That resulted in matches lacking any edge or intensity. As a consequence, England arrived at the Gabba lacking just a bit of the match sharpness to face bowling that was considerably more hostile.

They are, to some extent reaping what they have sown here. But Bayliss' suggestion that the two cricket boards get together and discuss a way to ensure the sides gain better preparation before the series begins in either country seems both sensible and constructive.

...and a couple of areas on which the game didn't hinge.

Moeen's stumping
It was a tight decision, yes, and an important moment. But it was not, by any means, a shocker. While some felt strongly it was correct and others felt strongly it was wrong, the truth often depended on which side you were supporting. Certainly many Ashes encounters have seen far more questionable decisions.

While it is true the crease appeared to have been painted slightly irregularly - the incident was jokingly referred to as Wobblyline rather than Bodyline - that is often the case as the game wears on and the crease becomes uneven due to foot marks and batsmen making their guard upon it. If England - and Moeen - are sensible, they will reflect that he was beaten by the bowler and allowed his back foot to drag a little. Blaming the umpire would be a smokescreen.

The Gabba atmosphere
The weather - and the crowd - in Brisbane this week has been unusually kind to England. Rarely did temperatures rise to levels we have seen here in the past and never did the crowd show previous levels of hostility. The pitch, too, might have helped them. Its sluggish nature drew much of the sting out of the Australia fast bowlers and allowed England's batsmen time to settle in on a surface not so different from some of those they will have experienced in county cricket. The conclusion? They have probably missed as good an opportunity to emerge from this ground with a win as any England side have had for many years.