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November 24, 2013
Chappell: 'Bit more than one-nil to Australia'
Around Brisbane and the nation, on televisions, radios and - if they paid Cricket Australia's $20 fee - smart phones, Australians watched and waited for the end of a drought near enough to 11 months long.
Not since 1986 had the country agonised this long between Test match victories, nine matches and seven defeats passing since Michael Hussey marked his final international appearance with a five-wicket victory over Sri Lanka at the SCG in the first week of 2013. The fact this was an Ashes match only heightened the sense of delayed gratification.
Having clambered all over England on the pivotal second day, Australia's major obstacle was less the visiting batsmen than the fickle Brisbane weather, which at various times brought sunshine, torrential downpours and even the bizarre sight of rain falling on one half of the Gabba but not the other. At length the skies cleared and the television cameras rolled, leaving Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson to round up the final two wickets and commence the celebrations.
It was too late for Channel Nine, who opted only to show the match on their digital channel GEM into Sydney and Melbourne. Too late also for those who paid for Australia's losses, including the former coach Mickey Arthur, a string of batsmen like Ed Cowan, Phillip Hughes and Usman Khawaja, and CA's head of people and culture Marianne Roux, who quit her post in the week before the Test. But its arrival was just in time for the captain Michael Clarke and his team, their newish mentor Darren Lehmann, and the vice-captain Brad Haddin, an admirable contributor to his 50th Test in his 37th year.
As results go, this was seismic, pointing towards a shift in the balance of power between these two teams, and holing England significantly below the waterline. Australia have not led an Ashes series since 2006, when a hiding in Brisbane and a capitulation in Adelaide consigned the Andrew Flintoff/Duncan Fletcher duo to the most miserable of tours. Following a year of their own cataclysms, Australia now know they have the capacity not only to beat England but to brutalise them.
Clarke had said before the match he could not promise the world, but the performance his team put together over four days was ultimately world-class. They stuttered to begin with, the top six folding to Stuart Broad on the opening day, but from the moment Haddin joined Johnson, Clarke's men gathered in strength and purpose with every hour. That seventh wicket stand was a significant moment, holding up English efforts to roll through a previously frail batting order and gathering belief in the home dressing room.
Haddin's runs vindicated his continued presence in the team despite his advancing years, while Johnson's indicated he truly was in the relaxed, even and mature frame of mind he and his coaches had spoken of harnessing in the lead-up to the match. It set the scene for the drama of day two, when Australia took decisive hold of an Ashes match for the first time since their previous Test win over England in Perth.
Clarke savours satisfying win
Then, as now, it was Johnson who played the central role, though not with the swing that had so confounded England at the WACA. This time his weapons were steepling bounce and frightening speed, a combination that completely flustered the normally serene No. 3 Jonathan Trott, drawing a panicked innings and a dismissal right on the stroke of lunch. In that moment England were psychologically scrambled by a single dismissal, in a way perhaps not seen since Shane Warne's ball to Mike Gatting at Old Trafford in 1993. Their confidence ebbed away at the same time Australia's grew, resulting in the afternoon surrender of 6 for 9 and an enormous first innings deficit.
From there the match was Australia's to lose. For a team so unfamiliar with victory this year, this was not quite the straightforward task it appeared. Though England were clearly damaged by the effects of the second afternoon, their bowlers sapped of energy by the sort of turnaround Australia had become used to, they remained a strong and experienced team with a distinct dislike for losing, and a well-developed capacity for scrounging draws. Clarke's men had to keep striving, and it was to their great credit that they did.
David Warner played a large part in this, clattering a century the equal of any he had made previously, but so too did Clarke with a hundred that answered the howls of derision emanating from his first day dismissal to Broad, and at the same time ran roughshod over Graeme Swann. Here was a blow as significant as the one struck by Johnson over Trott, opening up old scars Swann still harbours from earlier meetings with Clarke, the man he regards as the best player of spin in the game.
Further battering from Haddin and Johnson lifted England's theoretical target to a sort of figure that numbs the mind of batsmen already afflicted by the heavy legs brought on by hours in the field. Trott's addled repeat of his first innings performance confirmed the fearful damage Johnson had inflicted, and his wantaway flick to the deep legside field was to prove contagious, repeated by Kevin Pietersen on the fourth morning.
Only the visiting captain Alastair Cook kept the Australians out for long, but even in his occupation the hosts found a major sign of progress. Nathan Lyon intervened after a rain delay to nip out Cook with spin and bounce, and then teased Matt Prior into glancing a catch to leg slip the next over. It was the sort of fourth innings contribution Australia have been seeking from Lyon for some time, the one nagging doubt that has kept him prone to harsh treatment from the selectors. Fortified by the presence of his trusted mentor John Davison, Lyon was a potent weapon at the Gabba, leaving the more heralded Swann well and truly in the shade.
That left the last rites to be administered, and they were to be done so in a manner befitting Australia's intimidatory angle of attack at England's batsmen throughout. To as many as nine men around the bat, the touring tail was routed by pace, short balls doing for Broad, Chris Tremlett and James Anderson while Swann snicked into the slips for his first pair in Tests. The humiliation was comprehensive, and the physical threat overt. If any room was left for doubt, Clarke himself removed it by being heard on the stump microphone to snarl at Anderson "get ready for a broken f***ing arm". These closing scenes were unsavoury but also significant - Australia intent on inflicting maximum casualties in the first match of the summer.
When Anderson's final skier plopped gently into Johnson's hands, the Australians formed a tight huddle. A tighter one was created in the dressing room, where Lyon bellowed Under the Southern Cross for the first time in the role Hussey bequeathed to him as leader of the team song. Teams can be forged by matches and moments like this. Millions of Australians around the nation have good reason to hope that, at long last, they now have a team to get behind.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
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