The Ashes 2010-11 November 25, 2010

Opening salvo sets the tone on dramatic first day


The hype, as Ricky Ponting remarked, gets bigger every year, but the action somehow keeps living up to its billing. In a slaughterhouse atmosphere that throbbed like a 21st-Century Sabina Park, England diced with disaster on the opening day of the Ashes and on two astounding occasions suffered moments of meltdown that would have scuppered any one of their predecessors of the past 20 years. It remains to be seen whether the same fate awaits the class of 2010, but by the close England were bloodied and chastened, living up to their own pre-series assertions that their serene start to the tour would count for diddly-squat.

England's aim on this first day of the series was to drain the occasion of its emotion, to confront the ghastly Gabbatoir with a shrug in their shoulders and a spring in their steps, in precisely the manner that Steve Harmison, and before him Nasser Hussain, had failed to do on their previous two visits. Unfortunately for them, they were confronted by an Australian side who had mainlined their adrenalin straight from their defeat of 2009, and in the man of the moment, Peter Siddle, they confronted a bowler who knows no other way but up and at 'em.

Siddle's intercession, on his 26th birthday and in his first Test appearance since a back injury in January, was the stand-out performance of a pulsating day, as he justified the omission of Australia's form bowler Doug Bollinger with a cut-throat display of pace, aggression, and wicket-to-wicket skill. He, like every one of the ten Australians who had played in the decisive Oval Test in 2009, sucked up the pain of that defeat and blew it back into the fray at the earliest opportunity.

"[That defeat] was a massive part of it," said Siddle. "You never want to lose any game, let alone the Ashes. I can remember it now, the last wicket falling of the Oval test, going out on the field for the presentations, seeing the boys going up onto the stand, yahooing and cheering and getting handed the urn, it's something you don't want to see, and it's definitely something you don't want to see again. It's played a big part, and obviously this is a good start, but there's still 24 days to go and anything can happen in that time."

Despite Australia's enviable position at the close, Siddle's caution was justified, because there were signs amid the mayhem that England aren't dead yet. In terms of the cut-and-thrust on display, this first day's action was the spiritual successor to Lord's 2005, another game which started with first-over dramatics, when Harmison's second-ball snorter clattered into Justin Langer's elbow. Then as now, England finished the day on the canvas after being stunned by a spectacular full-length spell from Glenn McGrath, and on that occasion, they couldn't get back up before the bell.

Nevertheless, the agenda of the series was set there and then, and while England's aim on that occasion had been to pump themselves up rather than calm themselves down, there were enough moments of serenity in their performance today to believe they can fare considerably better further down the line. Alastair Cook's vigil was invaluable to the cause, as he blocked up an end for four-and-three-quarter hours and let his time at the crease act as a sponge for the excess atmospherics, while Kevin Pietersen's strut was back in evidence before he got a fine delivery from Siddle that nipped half-a-bat's width and was snicked through to Ponting at second slip.

No-one, however, looked more assured in their performance than the under-estimated Ian Bell, who oozed composure throughout his stay, and whose 76 might, in the circumstances, qualify as his finest Test innings yet.

"I want to get stuck in through this series, and get some knocks under some real pressure," said Bell. "I'm full of confidence, and I feel in good form, and it was nice to go out and play fluently. I'd much prefer to be 120 not out, but these are the days you enjoy playing Test cricket. Going out in front of a full house at the Gabba is pretty special, and the noise that can be generated out here is incredible. If we can get some wickets it'll be buzzing again tomorrow."

In the not-so-distant past, this was precisely the sort of occasion on which Bell would surely have crumbled - a fervent, baying atmosphere, and England's innings on the line after the back-to-back dismissals of Pietersen and Paul Collingwood. But something about his cricket has clicked into place in the past 12 months, starting with his starring role on the tour of South Africa, and to watch him talking to the media afterwards, with a steely resolve in his otherwise relaxed demeanour, was sufficient confirmation that his time has finally come.

"It was a nice day," he said, without a trace of irony, before responding to a question about whether England's fans should start panicking just yet. "Of course not," he added. "This is probably a better first day than we had last time we were here, and we're going to come out scrapping tomorrow morning. We know we're under-par, but we're not a million miles away from a par score."

It could well be true. Up in the Channel Nine commentary box, Shane Warne couldn't resist revisiting his old "Sherminator" jibe, but Bell has grown beyond recognition since 2006. Whether England as a unit can claim likewise will depend entirely on how they react with the ball, but if they are half the side that their recent record would claim them to be, they'll not let the lessons of a dramatic first day go unheeded.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ashley on November 25, 2010, 23:41 GMT

    A surprise first day by all accounts, siddle just making the starting 11 was one and then wipping half the england out was another.But i can see Mitchell johnson not being quiet for long,it will be difficult for england if AUS get 320 plus. A good start is needed and i wish england would not hype themselves up so much before the series as now it has added extra pressure and you can see this in some of teh batting on the first day.

  • Vishwanath on November 25, 2010, 23:05 GMT

    good day of cricket, better than the substandard things i see in the subcontinent [and i'm from there haha]. hilfy was a bit disappointing, i thought the conditions suited his bowling tbh. bell looked good and will be a key player in the series.

  • Steve on November 25, 2010, 20:41 GMT

    Great start by the Aussies and CONGRATULATIONS PETER SIDDLE!! History made and Australia on top. England had a poor day - but it's not disaster yet! Credit where it's due though and Australia were better than England on the first day of the first test. Let's not get carried away just yet? How many will the Aussies make? Any first Innings lead will be significant. Round 1 to Australai..... COME ON ENGLAND

  • wayne on November 25, 2010, 19:31 GMT

    Honours evenly split after the first day. Mitch was disappointing, Siddle was sublime, Bell was surprising! As we all knew beforehand, regardless of ranking, this is going to be one hell of a series...

  • Dummy4 on November 25, 2010, 18:36 GMT

    @ Stephen Dove: I agree. Australia didn't win the first day, England lost it.. Bell and Cook made the difference though, they added some steel to some indifferent batting by Collingwood, Prior, Swann etc.. Siddle was all heart but the rest of the Aussie bowlers were below average.. England should have ended up 300/ 6.. This situation gives England a chance to show their true mental toughness as well as their belief in themselves.. A chance to walk the talk.. How they respond today will have a huge influence on the end result of the tour..

  • Dummy4 on November 25, 2010, 17:19 GMT

    England based their preparation for the Ashes on wins against Bangladesh (people question whether they should be a test team) and Pakistan ( who came across as a disintegrated team and a bunch of school boys, yet took it down to the wire). I think England have underestimated Australia based on their recent form and my sense is that the score line will not be nearly as close as some might think. I know I should be careful in saying this, but my money is on Australia!

  • Dummy4 on November 25, 2010, 17:17 GMT

    @ Ben Tumilty, you have just shown your ignorance and inability to judge this beautiful game. To say Hilfenhaus and Watson looked poor and standard respectively sounds like you didn't even watch the game, both bowled good lines and did there roles within the team achieving wickets and good over economies. To say Ian Bell has more class than the entire Australian team is sheer lunacy a man who averages 25.68 in ashes series and who has only 2 centuries of note cannot match even one of the batting lineup for Australia let alone the entire team, need I even mention R Ponting. This test match and series still has a lot of cricket to come so please think about your comments before posting your biased opinions next time.

  • Dummy4 on November 25, 2010, 16:50 GMT

    if the ball swings Australia will surely struggle ,swing is the key they lost to sa and india at Australia because of swing.

  • Dummy4 on November 25, 2010, 16:21 GMT

    England based their preparation for the Ashes on wins against Bangladesh (people question whether they should be a test team) and Pakistan ( who came across as a disintegrated bunch of school boys, yet took it down to the wire). I think England have underestimated Australia based on their recent form and my sense is that the score line will not be nearly as close as some might think. I know I should be careful in saying this, but my money is on an Australia!

  • shafiq on November 25, 2010, 16:05 GMT

    The score would have been a lot worse if Trott faint tickle was appealed! Guess 36 for 3 would have the English legs wobble! Go Aussie go and wing by an innings.

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