Australia v England, 4th Test, Melbourne, 1st day December 26, 2010

England's quicks set up Ashes history

It was a day of dreams for the visitors as their impressive pace attack proved too much for Australia

Chris Tremlett and James Anderson have a long association with Ashes cricket, even if for more years than they'd care to mention, their involvement was of little more than an observational variety. Tremlett was England's designated 12th man for four games out of five in the epic 2005 series, only to be sent back to Hampshire when the prospect of a debut loomed in the Oval decider. Anderson, meanwhile, was the forgotten man of that same summer, jettisoned from the squad with his form in tatters following a flawed attempt to remodel his action.

The careers of both men are too far advanced for them to be exempt from caveats in the final reckoning, but on Boxing Day 2010, the pair combined for a performance that will surely go on to be recognised as one of England's most formidable of recent times. At some point this week, barring bad weather or a turnaround of more extraordinary proportions than Headingley 1981 (or yes, even Adelaide ...), England will have retained the Ashes in Australia for the first time in a quarter of a century. And Anderson and Tremlett will have produced their defining hours.

England have been here before in Ashes cricket, of course. In the Boxing Day Test of 1986-87, Gladstone Small and a semi-fit Ian Botham combined to rout the Aussies with a display of swing bowling that was just subtle enough for a ham-fisted batting line-up, in which Allan Border was the sole established star. Botham, famously, was playing with a damaged rib that reduced him to barely three-quarters pace, but that didn't prevent him from claiming 5 for 41, the 27th and final such haul of his career.

Neither Tremlett nor Anderson managed to notch up a "Pfeiffer" in this innings, but both men performed with an aplomb that would have given grief to any batting line-up in the world. At Perth England's bowlers had been seduced both by the bounce on offer and by the speed of Australia's scoring, and responded by banging the ball in short in a bid to rush themselves into the ascendancy. In another game in which England had won the toss and bowled, their lack of discipline allowed the Aussies to recover from 5 for 69 to a decisive 268.

There was a lesson to be learnt from that performance, and England as a unit took careful heed. Out of the attack went the promising but raw Steven Finn, whose 14 wickets had come at an economy rate pushing five an over, and in came the sturdy Tim Bresnan, a walking cliché of an English stock bowler, but a man who is making a very fine career from being under-rated. When Australia weren't being dismissed they were being subdued. And the net result was an implosion that must surely rank as their darkest single day of the decade.

"I think looking back it was a great toss to win," said Anderson. "There's always a danger you'll get carried away when you're expected to get wickets, but I thought we stuck at our task and kept pressure on all day. We use [a rate of] three an over as a rule as a bowling unit, so 270 is the target in a day, and even though we put them in, we still used that template at the start of the day. At no point did we get carried away, even at six- or seven-down, we just kept on trying to create pressure."

The emphasis on run-rate is a comparatively new aspect of England's bowling planning, even though the merits of line and length have been extolled by men such as Statham, Cartwright and Fraser down the years, not to mention Australia's champion seamer, Glenn McGrath. But born-again devotees do tend to be the most zealous followers of any given creed, and since seeing the light (coincidentally or otherwise) in the aftermath of his omission from the World Twenty20, Anderson has only once been dispatched at significantly more than three an over, and that was in the second innings at Adelaide when his first-innings four-for had already set up the win.

While others may yet sweep in to overshadow Anderson's efforts, his contribution to the canon of Ashes cricket is becoming exceedingly noteworthy, in spite of the travails of his early years, which of course culminated in his five wickets at 82.60 on the whitewash tour four years ago. His ability to make the new ball sing was regarded before this series as an irrelevance, given the vagaries of the Kookaburra ball and the prospect of hot dry weather. But on the contrary, his penchant for striking hard and fast at the earliest opportunity is proving, just as was the case in 2009, to be the difference between the teams.

In the last Ashes series eighteen months ago, Anderson came up with two key performances - his 4 for 55 at Lord's as Australia tumbled to 215 and defeat, and his 5 for 80 at Edgbaston when they were saved from a final-day dogfight by too many rain interruptions. At Adelaide he took 4 for 51 in a first-day 245. It all adds up to a consistency that few ever imagined he'd achieve, and even at Perth, where he was some way off his best, he still managed 3 for 61 in what felt at the time like a very healthy performance.

Tremlett, whose natural length is a splice jangler, provided England with an X-factor, as he proved superbly with two snorters to extract Australia's second-most reliable batsman, Shane Watson, and their most respected, Ricky Ponting

The man whom England missed at Perth, however, was Stuart Broad - the attack's aggressor and the likeliest foil for Anderson, a bowler who loves nothing better than for crease-rooted opponents to line him up for ill-balanced drives. At first, when two early chances went down off his bowling, the man himself admitted he had wondered if it was going to be one of those days, but with the inexperienced Finn no longer present to allow the pressure to be released at one end, Tremlett and Bresnan restored order superbly.

"It doesn't matter who gets the wickets as long as you get ten of them," said Anderson. "I thought it was brilliant bowling. Throughout the series we've bowled really well. We've beat the bat a lot, we've had lbws turned down and created chances, and today was the day when all those bits of luck came together and we got the nicks. Hussey may have played and missed at that one in Perth, but it just one of those days when everything came off."

Bresnan showed in a dogged performance on a pudding of a pitch against Victoria last week that he would keep a check on batting ambition even if the conditions weren't in his favour, but Tremlett, whose natural length is a splice jangler, provided England with an X-factor, as he proved superbly with two snorters to extract Australia's second-most reliable batsman, Shane Watson, and their most respected, Ricky Ponting. The combined effect was intoxicating, for Australia's cricketers and England's supporters alike - especially after their respective expectations had been transformed by the result at the WACA.

It's becoming surprisingly commonplace for England as a team, however. For the fourth time in eight Tests since July 2010, they dismissed their opponents for less than 100, having rolled Pakistan aside for 80, 76 and 72 in their summer campaign back in Blighty - a campaign that also featured, lest we forget, Australia themselves being skittled by the Pakistanis for 88 at Headingley.

Again, it was assumed that the disciplines that England brought to bear in those contests would have no relevance in Australia, but Anderson and his colleagues proved that excellence is a currency that can be carried across borders. "It swung early on but afterwards it was just about hitting the seam," he said. "Straussy took the third slip out early on and put a cover in to encourage us to bowl a bit fuller, and that obviously worked really well."

In a very distant echo of that Botham performance 24 years ago, Anderson came into this match with some concerns about a side strain, but as he later admitted, he'd have "had to snap in half" before he ruled himself unfit for such a massive contest. "It's an amazing feeling," he said. "In an Ashes series to bowl Australia out for less than 100, and then be 150 for none at the end of play is just unheard of. We've been good at bouncing back strongly so we didn't expect anything less, but to do it so emphatically probably wasn't on the cards."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • manish on December 27, 2010, 6:03 GMT

    where in the wrld does the comparison b/w sachin and ponting exist....look at that ponting is not doing a meagre 1% what sachin has done when team India was in it bad days...dn`t u remember 1999 when he was captain nd india ws tourin lost all the three test matches but tendulkar on the other hand had 2 or 3 centuries against the best bowling unit compromising warne, mcgrath, lee nd others...not like ponting who sees the to others to perform...i think the prblm wid australia is same that been mentioned by Ian Chappel...Ponting is trying too hard to worth as a captain...who himself is not a great leader..he was a great leader in past coz he had got one of the best teams in u can see his scoring his decisions and all the other things...he is not performing that`s the truth...nd he should concentrate on his own performance

  • Dru on December 27, 2010, 5:57 GMT

    Its been amazing how the English fast bowlers have been so effective in Aus while the Aus bowlers (we can forget about Perth now) have been anything but effective. They have struggled to get rid of Strauss and Cook and then Trott except a few occassions and if you look at the Aus top order - well its been a total disaster. Usually Eng do well in Eng with Swing and seam but this time have to come to Aus with both those AND pace and bounce and have been devastating against the Aus top order while the Eng toporder has been rock solid against pace and bounce.

  • Dummy4 on December 27, 2010, 5:43 GMT


    why you have such a dumb knowledge?? Can u prove it?? How many matches won by Ponting for Australia Single handedly.. as well as matches won by Sachin for India.. In India, we have a only one great legend batsman.. thats Sachin.. But in Australia, multi number Batsmans and Bowlers were produced in last 20 years... Ponting is just a captain of best players squad.. I accept the fact that Ponting is also a great batsman... But your words is absolutely ridiculous.. He is not the only reason for Australia's winning records... do you forget??.. Ponting is the first captain of Australia to lost 3 ashes series..(Add this series also)....

  • JIGNESH on December 27, 2010, 5:10 GMT

    Despite Punter is struggling these days, Australian Board and selectors don't have guts to tell him not to take Hilfy in final 11, and getting Bolinger or Tait or any other. Hilfenhause is just as struggler as Pakistan's Mohammad Sami, but they both get place in national team on regular basis. Dhyaneswaran, I don't love, let me clear, I never love the team who involve in under-arm bowling incidents, using metal bat to play incident, Sledging and cheating incidents, pressuring umpires and arguing with umpires, Kicking opponent player (Miandad) incident, and other bad incidents I don't know. If you think you have that big heart to love, then go for it. I always would say "GO ENGLAND GO".

  • Ned on December 27, 2010, 4:53 GMT

    I am an aussie fan ,and i haven't written them off so there.

    the first innings batting was inexplicable to say the very least but this game isnt over yet and the urn hasn't yet be awarded for another two years to Andrew strauss.The match isnt a done deal yet.

  • Anver on December 27, 2010, 4:51 GMT

    Certainly the toss was crucial, but must give credit to Anderson & Tremlett backed by some excellent catchings behind the wicket..... Eng is in the driving seat & i don't think from this position thet can lose this match !!!!!!!

  • Mark on December 27, 2010, 3:04 GMT

    i would take tendulkar. he is a gentleman and a good sport. ponting is not. this cannot be disputed. disgraceful what he has just done at the mcg.

  • NIrosh on December 27, 2010, 2:08 GMT

    Seriously, is Steven Smith our best number 6 batsman we have or have we picked him because he can 'bat a bit and bowl a bit' and more importantly he is from NSW ? Is Smith better than C Ferguson (ave 48.01), Khawaja (ave 74.71) and Marsh (ave 59.14). If you need a player who 'can bat a bit and bowl a bit' why not Andrew McDonald (batting ave 74.40 and bowling ave 25.40) , oops , I forgot, McDonald is from Victoria - No chance.

  • athar on December 26, 2010, 21:25 GMT

    Ponting VS Tendulkar ? Who you want in your team? I will take Ponting because he helped Australia to win 2 world cups and many more games single handedly.He played some great innings. In contrast, tendulkar played many great innings but never helped India to victory. Laxman has played some great innings and that innings will be remembered for ever. even last tour to india Lashman was the one who won the series for india even Tendulkar score many runs. So, i think Ponting is match winner but Tendulkar is being around 23 years but has's won any game for india single handedly, so he is not match winner.

  • Jim on December 26, 2010, 20:36 GMT

    Like all sporting dynasties before them; west indies, yankees, liverpool, brazil and even man united presently, the aussies relied on a cocky intimidation of their opponents to go with their undoubted skill. Yet, this is why sport should be played in a gentlemanly manner, I believe, as glory is only fleeting and it doesn't take much to end up like the Windies 2010.

    I wouldn't ever dare say that they will never win another series ever again, but this cricket team looks a lot smaller and more vulnerable than they were even a few months ago and many other nations will probably no longer wish to write off the fixture, with a gulp, but instead must now be smelling blood... cricket just got a whole lot more interesting!

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