Australia v England, 1st Test, Brisbane, 1st day November 21, 2013

Australia strangers in their own land

There was a remarkable role reversal on day one at the Gabba as Australia resembled the tentative under-prepared team that is usually the tourists
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By Australia's proud and repeated assertion, Brisbane is supposed to be their fortress. Many an overseas Test side have arrived at the Gabba still shaking off jetlag from a trip halfway around the world and a rudimentary preparation, their captain hearing the coin toss hit the hard, grassy pitch with a percussive sound unfamiliar to players from just about anywhere but South Africa.

Sometimes they bat and get rolled, others they field and get pummelled. Always they get lost in the catacombs beneath 40,000 seats. Not once in 25 years have they won.

By the time their Test match is finished, touring teams are just about ready to play in Brisbane: second innings revivals are not uncommon. But instead they are leaving town, headed south or west, invariably 1-0 down in the series and with indignant headlines ringing in their ears.

As a cricket ground, the Gabba has been something like Australia's surprise weapon, seldom offering anything other than a decided advantage to the hosts through their far greater familiarity with the place.

But on day one of the Ashes a strange dynamic held sway over proceedings. Australia's batsmen played largely with the fidgeting insecurity of nervous visitors, while Stuart Broad homed in on his quarry in a manner befitting of the Lillee, McDermott, McGrath lineage. James Anderson and Chris Tremlett were similarly confident of their roles and best avenues of attack on a ground offering rich rewards for pacemen with precision. It was possible for a moment to ignore the colour of the caps, the identity of the badges and presume this was an Australian team bowling to a touring side. The men in baggy green were strangers in their own land.

All the usual sights were there. An opening batsman, Chris Rogers, surprised by the extra bounce early and lobbing a catch to gully. A No. 3 in Shane Watson fencing at a ball he should have left in the minutes before lunch, tempted into the stroke by Broad's teasing line and exclaiming "oh no" even before Graeme Swann took the catch. Michael Clarke looked every inch the hunted and haunted visiting captain of the 1990s or early 2000s, psyched out by an intimidatory field setting and a bowler knowing exactly how to unsettle him.

David Warner and Steve Smith offered hints of resistance in their contrasting ways, but also perished to the bounce. George Bailey's first innings was not memorable - few touring debutants in Brisbane have been. And while Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson fought with commendable application and good sense to repair some of the earlier damage, Clarke's team still ended the day looking likely to fall well short of a total commensurate with the quality of the pitch.

So how was it that Australia's top six looked so out of synch with a ground they have professed such profound affection for? Unless they were satisfied with the simple notion that England are an older, better and more confident team than Australia, most of the 34,889 spectators in attendance puzzled over this question across the day.

The answer probably lies in the conflagration of numerous circumstances, both deliberate and accidental, but all related to the summer schedule. Seldom, if ever, can the two Test teams have arrived in Brisbane ahead of the Test match without a single player on either side having played a match there so far in the summer. A resurfacing of the entire ground, the first since 2000, kept Queensland's domestic fixtures away from the Gabba, meaning the Bulls, Tasmania and New South Wales all played their matches at Allan Border Field, a surface of far less bounce.

Aware of this, Cricket Australia were keen to move the Blues' match against Queensland last week to the Gabba by way of preparation for as many as seven members of the Test side. Logistical difficulties ensured that the match remained at AB Field, and meant that no Australian player visited the Gabba until Tuesday morning, two days out from the Test.

This is not to say a lack of cricket is to blame. CA chief executive James Sutherland's declaration that the nation's players would reach the Gabba having played plenty of cricket requires a qualifying question. What kind? Before the Shield began, the scheduling of an ODI tour to India in October meant that Watson, Johnson, Bailey and Haddin all entered the Brisbane Test with somewhere between zero and two first-class fixtures behind them.

They might have had more, but CA also decided to play the domestic limited-overs competition as a carnival style event in Sydney across three weeks to start the season. The tournament made a stuttering start on a poor pitch at Bankstown, then spluttered into life in later matches at the small and similarly slow North Sydney Oval. Exempted from India, Warner and Smith gained confidence from scoring runs but not the experience of riding the bounce on swifter four-day surfaces.

Paradoxically, the greatest casualty of the schedule may actually have been Bailey, the man who bounded into the Test team off the back of his elephantine scoring feats in ODIs on the subcontinent. Anyone watching at the Gabba knew instantly how little these runs meant, scored as they were on flat pitches against amiable bowling under fielding restrictions that left the opposing captain MS Dhoni powerless to plug Bailey's favoured scoring zones. On his return he played on low pitches at Allan Border Field and at Bellerive in Hobart, never going beyond handy starts in four innings.

As he faced up to Anderson in a spell of swing and accuracy at a high enough speed to punish any error, Bailey must have wondered how better his preparation time might have been spent. As several balls whizzed past his outside edge before finally kissing it on the way into the slips, he had cause to question whether he had been set up to fail. Brisbane might be considered Australia's fortress, but it is nothing like any of the places he, and most of the top six, have been batting on for the past two months.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • NZCricketfan1 on November 21, 2013, 20:31 GMT

    I am amazed about the Australian technique against short and short of a length bowling. It was a traditional strength of their game but now days its gone from the current team.

    5 out of 6 of the Australian top order played either away from their body (ie not moving into line with the ball) or off the wrong foot vs short or short of a length balls. Michael Clarke's technique is quite poor in this regard.

    A trigger movement with the back foot across to off such as the great Lara's is the natural solution to this. And one which was second nature in the days of Chappel or Doug Walters. Or even more recently Ponting. What has happened to Aussie batsmans back foot play? To much sub continent T20?

    Warner seems to be the only one in the top 6 doing it right. Strange indeed.

    Now for all of you English fans remember Harris and Johnson are 10-15km quicker so it aint over yet. 300 might be a good score. It moved around and bounced yesterday.

  • on November 22, 2013, 10:30 GMT

    Heh. Funny game isn't it.

  • ScottStevo on November 22, 2013, 9:00 GMT

    @swervin, that comment makes no sense whatsoever, we need to strengthen our batting - by bringing in a bowling all rounder....seriously?!

    @Brettig, we looked right at home today, mate.

  • on November 22, 2013, 8:52 GMT

    Not a very insightful article was it Dan? Australia has played the conditions twice as well as the English and will win the Test match.

  • Digimont on November 22, 2013, 8:04 GMT

    Not looking so bad 24 hours later, are they Mr Brettig?

  • Gizza on November 22, 2013, 7:55 GMT

    This article was written a tad prematurely. So many people already have eggs on their faces.

  • MinusZero on November 22, 2013, 0:07 GMT

    I think Doolan would have been a better option than Bailey. Bailey has a poor first class record. This isnt an ODI

  • DickCam on November 22, 2013, 0:01 GMT

    Clarkes dismissal was absolutely dreadful. Steve Waugh would have let the ball hit him, said to the bowler 'is that all you got', and then gone to make a nice big hundred. The short ball sorts the men from the boys.

  • swervin on November 21, 2013, 23:42 GMT

    it's so simple - australia have a weak batting team therefore when you make changes you need to strengthen the batting not weaken it - that's why faulkner has to be picked in some of these upcoming tests...

  • on November 21, 2013, 23:39 GMT

    Aus were also a significantly better side 12 years ago.

  • NZCricketfan1 on November 21, 2013, 20:31 GMT

    I am amazed about the Australian technique against short and short of a length bowling. It was a traditional strength of their game but now days its gone from the current team.

    5 out of 6 of the Australian top order played either away from their body (ie not moving into line with the ball) or off the wrong foot vs short or short of a length balls. Michael Clarke's technique is quite poor in this regard.

    A trigger movement with the back foot across to off such as the great Lara's is the natural solution to this. And one which was second nature in the days of Chappel or Doug Walters. Or even more recently Ponting. What has happened to Aussie batsmans back foot play? To much sub continent T20?

    Warner seems to be the only one in the top 6 doing it right. Strange indeed.

    Now for all of you English fans remember Harris and Johnson are 10-15km quicker so it aint over yet. 300 might be a good score. It moved around and bounced yesterday.

  • on November 22, 2013, 10:30 GMT

    Heh. Funny game isn't it.

  • ScottStevo on November 22, 2013, 9:00 GMT

    @swervin, that comment makes no sense whatsoever, we need to strengthen our batting - by bringing in a bowling all rounder....seriously?!

    @Brettig, we looked right at home today, mate.

  • on November 22, 2013, 8:52 GMT

    Not a very insightful article was it Dan? Australia has played the conditions twice as well as the English and will win the Test match.

  • Digimont on November 22, 2013, 8:04 GMT

    Not looking so bad 24 hours later, are they Mr Brettig?

  • Gizza on November 22, 2013, 7:55 GMT

    This article was written a tad prematurely. So many people already have eggs on their faces.

  • MinusZero on November 22, 2013, 0:07 GMT

    I think Doolan would have been a better option than Bailey. Bailey has a poor first class record. This isnt an ODI

  • DickCam on November 22, 2013, 0:01 GMT

    Clarkes dismissal was absolutely dreadful. Steve Waugh would have let the ball hit him, said to the bowler 'is that all you got', and then gone to make a nice big hundred. The short ball sorts the men from the boys.

  • swervin on November 21, 2013, 23:42 GMT

    it's so simple - australia have a weak batting team therefore when you make changes you need to strengthen the batting not weaken it - that's why faulkner has to be picked in some of these upcoming tests...

  • on November 21, 2013, 23:39 GMT

    Aus were also a significantly better side 12 years ago.

  • thiruven on November 21, 2013, 22:47 GMT

    Time to settle and enjoy the battle. Quite premature to comment on performances. The pivotal moment in the game was the batting of Shane Watson. There was no effort to take singles and rotate the strike. Momentum was lost. Steve Smith had showed that urgency. Well! Hopefully this crucial aspect should not be lost especially in test match scenario.

  • ShutTheGate on November 21, 2013, 22:24 GMT

    @ Steve Back - I agree, both teams have to bat before we jump to conclusions.

    The pitch didn't seem like a batsman's paradise to me but a good test wicket with something in it for both batters and bowlers.

    The Aussie top order did look very nervous though so they should be more settled by the second innings. The build up to this test had the most hype of any test match that I can remember and if I was Boof I'd keep the players out of the media. Talking things up and giving press conferences adds to pressure and nerves not to focus and concentration.

    I can't wait to see how our quicks go today. I'm especially intrigued about Johnson and the MJ Carberry, and MJ Trott battles.

  • HOMEBREW on November 21, 2013, 22:22 GMT

    Said it before and i'll say it again. Scoring runs in 20/20 or ODI should not get you picked for the test team. If recent 4 day form is taken into account i'd have Bailey out of this below par side & put Cameron White in, nothing wrong with his 4 day form.

    I'd drop Rogers as he had on a chest guard, so why not let the ball hit you there? Thats what it's there for. Replace him with Hughes or Klinger, Hughes & Warner opening could give the Poms a bit of a shake if they both fire at once. Klinger, right hand batter. Right & left hand to open is good change.

    Clarke has a few problems, taking his eye off the ball is a major one. He is not right. He also needs to be dropped & sent back to sheild cricket & come back for Boxing Day & New Years tests. As captain i'd have Haddin as he is behind the stumps & has the best view of whats going on, or Watson, same sort of view. Clarke's a bit harder to replace, but i'd go out on a limb & give Chris Lynn a go, can't do any worse.

  • 5wombats on November 21, 2013, 22:21 GMT

    @ScottStevo (November 21, 2013, 19:18 GMT) The funniest thing about your comments; "big talk coming from a side who couldn't manage to score 400 once in the whole of the previous series" is that England actually didn't need to score more than 400 in order to beat Australia 3-0. In England in 2013 Australia didn't exactly cover themselves in glory with the willow, did they? If they had maybe your comments would have some relevance, but as it is, they don't.

  • 2MikeGattings on November 21, 2013, 21:06 GMT

    @Scott Stevo the ball went out of shape. The umpires changed it straight away without any argument. Warne reckons that replacement balls are always hard ones which is probably true since it is presumably the soft ones that go out of shape.

  • ScottStevo on November 21, 2013, 19:18 GMT

    @landl47, everyone is entitled to their opinions, however, regarding Bailey, it's a bit harsh to adjudicate the guy after one innings of test cricket when walking out to bat with 80 on the board in dire trouble and Eng with their tails up.

    Australia batted poorly today, unquestionably, however, there's plenty of big talk coming from a side who couldn't manage to score 400 once in the whole of the previous series. Aus have 273 on the board already. If Aus can manage to score 40-50 tomorrow, which isn't implausible, then we should be fairly well placed to keep the first innings close enough, although the wicket looks quite good for batting, there was still enough in it for the bowlers to keep them interested. The new ball is key and Aus will need to make early inroads. Speaking of ball conditions, does anyone know why the ball was changed today?

  • on November 21, 2013, 19:18 GMT

    Kolkata 2001 - Australia were 291/8 at end of Day 2. They finally got to 445. Although the result of that match isn't exactly favorable to the Aussies, they can take hope from the first innings rearguard effort. 400+ would be reasonable enough to defend. Assuming they get there first.

  • InsideHedge on November 21, 2013, 19:12 GMT

    During the recently concluded Ashes in the English "summer", Eng were actually a little under par yet still managed to win the series 3-0. Could easily have been 4-0 if the umpires hadn't taken the players off the field in controversial circumstances in the final Test.

    This doesn't bode well for Australia. The batting is shaky and I'm convinced more than one bowler will be out injured before the end of the series. It'll be a few years before Oz are back with the heavyweights. Poor Oz are not only struggling in Tests but they look average in the other two formats too, there's just no silver lining on the horizon.

  • InsideHedge on November 21, 2013, 19:09 GMT

    Aussie batsman may not have had much play at the Gabba this season but what about past years? But yeah, blame it on the India tour. Let's see where we stand at the end of the series, I'm pretty confident that both Bailey and Johnson will give a good account of themselves, both benefited from the India ODI tour.

  • willsrustynuts on November 21, 2013, 19:04 GMT

    Day 26 looked pretty much like the 25 days that preceded it in this marathon home and away series....

  • on November 21, 2013, 16:56 GMT

    Calm down people, it's only day 1 of the Ashes! Anything can happen from here. Have we forgotten the first day of Trent Bridge earlier this year?

  • on November 21, 2013, 15:38 GMT

    The surfeit of Big Bash and one-day cricket clearly shows. Chasing wide deliveries, not knowing which balls to leave and ugly, airy heaves that only just cleared the fielders were legion. Brisbane represents Australia's best chance to win a test this series but on the evidence of the first day, their top six have blown it getting out for 132. All is not lost yet thanks to Haddin and Johnson. 273-8 is not a hopeless score by any means, at least not until we've seen what England can do, but one has to ask whether Australia still can produce Test class batsmen.

  • GeoffreysMother on November 21, 2013, 15:30 GMT

    It is ridiculous to suggest that George Bailey was set up to fail: nobody in C.A. has the ability to do that much planning!

  • on November 21, 2013, 15:30 GMT

    There was so much nonsense spoken about the Australian team before the series. How many Australian batsmen in FC cricket average over 50, exactly? You haven't solved the core problem of your cricket and you expect the same team to all of a sudden turn it around against the side that thrashed you 3-0 not too long ago. Building castles in the air, anyone?

  • landl47 on November 21, 2013, 14:54 GMT

    Poor George Bailey- he started off with a nice push for three, which unfortunately brought him to Anderson's end. He didn't have a clue how to play Anderson, edged one just short of Cook and then an identical edge into Cook's hands. The article about him before the test said he sought advice from Rob Quiney. Obviously he took notice of Quiney's words of wisdom, because their test averages are now exactly the same.

    Just one correction, Daniel- England are not an older, better and more confident team, they're a YOUNGER (334 total years to Australia's 340), better and more confident team.

  • on November 21, 2013, 13:53 GMT

    Not counting the Aussies out yet. Pitch will quicken up tomorrow and Harris and Johnson could thrive. Will certainly be a serious test for Carberry. That said, England's middle order looks so strong. See the new ball off and you can show how good the pitch really is. I expect England to post 400 and take a grip on the game.

  • PrasPunter on November 21, 2013, 13:52 GMT

    I thought Ashes is gone this time as well, unless our bowlers do something miraculous. Only an extremely optimistic person would bet on an Aussie victory from here.

  • inefekt on November 21, 2013, 13:28 GMT

    Australia need 350 minimum and 80 runs is a tough ask for your last two wickets. Our batsmen simply cannot fathom the intricacies of test match cricket, they have no idea how to graft an innings and instead they have a 'see it and hit it' approach which is much more suited to 20/20. Weather permitting, I forsee a 5-0 drubbing. Cricket down under is in dire straits.

  • on November 21, 2013, 12:42 GMT

    Not over yet... To all the people saying we have serious problems, look after your own aging team. We will be fine in the long run, we are not worried.

  • Beertjie on November 21, 2013, 12:34 GMT

    Well if you had to face Lee and others bowling at something like his pace on bouncy tracks there'd be fewer guys "propping themselves on the front foot @ ToneMalone on (November 21, 2013, 12:01 GMT). The current quicks are not playing because their schedule is being "managed".

  • muzika_tchaikovskogo on November 21, 2013, 12:17 GMT

    Irrespective of which way the series goes from here, Australia have serious problems to contend with. Watson at 32 is still a promising batsman, Clarke's dodgy back means that he's only occasionally going to recreate the magic of old and Haddin at 36 isn't too far away from the end. Even if they do win back the ashes, its only a matter of time before they'll need to start rebuilding again.

  • latecut_04 on November 21, 2013, 12:10 GMT

    If Aus batsmen can't score runs in Aus they are gone!They couldn't in India,England and almost everywhere else.Agreed preparation has been next to rubbish with a meaningless ODI tour made even more meaningless by the mountain of runs scored by both sides in all matches.I had said this before.India have done it again.They made CA think Bailey is test class..just like they made CA think Punter has much more cricket in him during 2011/12 series.They could have played the best Shield middle order batsman as their No:6.So far Haddin and to an extent Warner have proved me wrong.(they too made tons against Indians)just feel Warner may not last long..hope i am proved wrong.

  • ToneMalone on November 21, 2013, 12:01 GMT

    A good article that helps to explain a lot of a puzzling day's cricket. Properly prepared Test batsmen should have left at least some of today's wicket-taking deliveries alone - the dismissals of Watson, Smith and Bailey had a disturbing similarity about them. But it goes well beyond preparations in the past 2-3 months for Australia's top six. It was interesting to hear in a recent interview with Arthur Morris (from Bradman's Invincibles) that many great batsmen from his era were actually predominantly back-foot players. It's too late for Shane Watson and other batsmen already well into their careers, but perhaps younger players can take note of Morris's comments and re-think their approach, rather than propping themselves on the front foot.

  • Chris_Howard on November 21, 2013, 11:55 GMT

    Well, all that said, we'll see how the Poms go against Harris. If the Poms can negotiate Harris successfully for two innings, we're rooted! (I know Siddle did well here last time in the first innings, but he couldn't back it up in the second)

  • KamalXI on November 21, 2013, 11:43 GMT

    Cricinfo.. Why there is no mentioning or praising of Brad haddin in any of the post mortem articles.. He took Australia to a respectable total and played very well.. He also brought hopes for other batters in the aussie line up..Please give credit where it is due.. Aussies are not down and out..they will win this 3-0

  • KamalXI on November 21, 2013, 11:43 GMT

    Cricinfo.. Why there is no mentioning or praising of Brad haddin in any of the post mortem articles.. He took Australia to a respectable total and played very well.. He also brought hopes for other batters in the aussie line up..Please give credit where it is due.. Aussies are not down and out..they will win this 3-0

  • Chris_Howard on November 21, 2013, 11:55 GMT

    Well, all that said, we'll see how the Poms go against Harris. If the Poms can negotiate Harris successfully for two innings, we're rooted! (I know Siddle did well here last time in the first innings, but he couldn't back it up in the second)

  • ToneMalone on November 21, 2013, 12:01 GMT

    A good article that helps to explain a lot of a puzzling day's cricket. Properly prepared Test batsmen should have left at least some of today's wicket-taking deliveries alone - the dismissals of Watson, Smith and Bailey had a disturbing similarity about them. But it goes well beyond preparations in the past 2-3 months for Australia's top six. It was interesting to hear in a recent interview with Arthur Morris (from Bradman's Invincibles) that many great batsmen from his era were actually predominantly back-foot players. It's too late for Shane Watson and other batsmen already well into their careers, but perhaps younger players can take note of Morris's comments and re-think their approach, rather than propping themselves on the front foot.

  • latecut_04 on November 21, 2013, 12:10 GMT

    If Aus batsmen can't score runs in Aus they are gone!They couldn't in India,England and almost everywhere else.Agreed preparation has been next to rubbish with a meaningless ODI tour made even more meaningless by the mountain of runs scored by both sides in all matches.I had said this before.India have done it again.They made CA think Bailey is test class..just like they made CA think Punter has much more cricket in him during 2011/12 series.They could have played the best Shield middle order batsman as their No:6.So far Haddin and to an extent Warner have proved me wrong.(they too made tons against Indians)just feel Warner may not last long..hope i am proved wrong.

  • muzika_tchaikovskogo on November 21, 2013, 12:17 GMT

    Irrespective of which way the series goes from here, Australia have serious problems to contend with. Watson at 32 is still a promising batsman, Clarke's dodgy back means that he's only occasionally going to recreate the magic of old and Haddin at 36 isn't too far away from the end. Even if they do win back the ashes, its only a matter of time before they'll need to start rebuilding again.

  • Beertjie on November 21, 2013, 12:34 GMT

    Well if you had to face Lee and others bowling at something like his pace on bouncy tracks there'd be fewer guys "propping themselves on the front foot @ ToneMalone on (November 21, 2013, 12:01 GMT). The current quicks are not playing because their schedule is being "managed".

  • on November 21, 2013, 12:42 GMT

    Not over yet... To all the people saying we have serious problems, look after your own aging team. We will be fine in the long run, we are not worried.

  • inefekt on November 21, 2013, 13:28 GMT

    Australia need 350 minimum and 80 runs is a tough ask for your last two wickets. Our batsmen simply cannot fathom the intricacies of test match cricket, they have no idea how to graft an innings and instead they have a 'see it and hit it' approach which is much more suited to 20/20. Weather permitting, I forsee a 5-0 drubbing. Cricket down under is in dire straits.

  • PrasPunter on November 21, 2013, 13:52 GMT

    I thought Ashes is gone this time as well, unless our bowlers do something miraculous. Only an extremely optimistic person would bet on an Aussie victory from here.

  • on November 21, 2013, 13:53 GMT

    Not counting the Aussies out yet. Pitch will quicken up tomorrow and Harris and Johnson could thrive. Will certainly be a serious test for Carberry. That said, England's middle order looks so strong. See the new ball off and you can show how good the pitch really is. I expect England to post 400 and take a grip on the game.