England take the hard knocks
Despite batting through to the close with all ten wickets intact, England face a bitter struggle to recover from a traumatic third day - and given the Gabba's Lions v Christians reputation, the chances of them doing so would appear to be slim in the extreme. Nevertheless, amidst the wreckage of their immediate match prospects, there were plenty reasons to believe that they've got what it takes to fight back, if not right now, then without question as the series wears on.
If England need a precedent from which to draw inspiration, they need only rewind 16 months to Cardiff at the start of the 2009 Ashes. On that occasion they had to hack their way back into the contest after conceding 674 for 6, the highest total in post-war Ashes history, and though they eventually did so by the skin of their teeth, the momentum they generated sustained them for the rest of the series, and beyond.
Australia know, from what happened in 2009, that titanic scoreboard feats are only half the battle where this particular England side is concerned. It remains a source of bemusement, and outright dismay in some quarters, that they managed to rack up six of the top seven run-scorers in last summer's series, as well as collecting eight individual hundreds to England's tally of two, only to be trumped in the final analysis by two first-innings batting failures at Lord's and The Oval.
With that in mind, the brilliance of the triple-century stand between Michael Hussey and Brad Haddin will not be allowed to have anything like the same effect as Australia's last humungous partnership against England, the 279-run stand (also for the sixth wicket) that Matthew Hayden and Andrew Symonds compiled at the MCG in December 2006. Not least because, on this occasion, England know precisely how and why their day went so sour. And they'll also believe that they won't get quite so unlucky in quite such a bizarre way again.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the review system, the isolated set of circumstances that kept Michael Hussey at the crease in the first half-hour of the day meant that James Anderson was denied his just rewards for a spell that Haddin described as "probably the hardest Test bowling I've ever had to face". On 82, Hussey successfully overturned an lbw decision that had pitched outside leg; on 85, he survived a stone-dead shout because England had already used up their reviews on the first day - one of which, ironically, was lost on a caught-behind appeal against Michael Clarke that snickometer later suggested was out.
It was a set of circumstances that, had the ECB chairman Giles Clarke been in town, might have caused a few toys to fly out of a few prams - as was the case in Johannesburg earlier in the year, when he set about demanding the reinstatement of a lost appeal against another man who made a match-turning century, Graeme Smith. Unsurprisingly, the petition fell on deaf ears, and as it happens, the fuss didn't do a lot for the focus of the team - they went on to lose by an innings.
Right now, however, the spirit within the squad looks more durable than was the case 12 months ago, and as Eoin Morgan noted by tweeting: "made up for Finny!!" moments after the close, the sight of Australia's last five wickets tumbling for 31 in 13 overs - four of them to the rookie Steven Finn - will be of greater consequence this evening than everything that happened up until that point.
Up until then, retaining optimism in the face of such adversity had been a challenge, and there were moments throughout the day when England's spirits were allowed to flag, not least when Alastair Cook and Anderson dropped the only two catches that came their way in the whole of the first two sessions. And yet, all throughout there were little moments that spoke volumes for their resolve, such as the sight of Matt Prior and Kevin Pietersen running a full 40 yards from the cordon to congratulate Cook at mid-on for a particularly sharp piece of groundwork.
"I enjoyed the wicket bits," said Finn, whose 6 for 125 was not only a personal best, but England's best at the Gabba since John Snow in 1970-71. "It was a tough day of Test cricket for us, but we're a confident unit, we know we can get ourselves out of tricky situations, and we back ourselves to do that. To concede a first-innings deficit is not good, but we feel we've done things properly. We kept the intensity up in the field and we kept the pressure on."
The final moments of Australia's innings were a reminder, however belated, of the fragility that still lurks within their line-up, but the day as a whole lived up to the maxim, repeated ad nauseum in the build-up to the series, that a bowling team has to make the most of the Kookaburra ball while it's still shiny and new in those crucial first 15 overs. With that in mind, there was nothing more that Anderson in particular could do, as he hounded the outside edge for eight of the best overs of his life, much as Dale Steyn had done to Paul Collingwood at Cape Town back in January.
If England do go on to lose, there's another precedent that would be worth bearing in mind. The 2005 Ashes series began with a two-day dogfight at Lord's, but descended into a rout on the pivotal third day, when Australia were allowed to get too far in front in their second innings, following a crucial drop from Pietersen off Clarke. In the end it became embarrassing, with Shane Warne administering a string of ducks on a beaten batting line-up. But then as now, the tipping point was one clearly defined moment, rather than a long and slow tilting of the scales.
"The game's such a fine line," said Hussey of the let-off that transformed Australia's day. After the month of speculation that he's just endured, there's no danger that he will be getting ahead of himself after his remarkable day. And nor, for that matter, will any of the ten Australians in this side who played in 2009. There are too many opportunities for the narrative to twist again.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.