Root century galvanises England
England 343 for 7 (Root 134, Ballance 61, Hazelwood 3-70, Starc 3-84) v Australia
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Joe Root has come a long way since he was part of a demoralised England squad that left Australia with a 5-0 whitewash and apparitions of Mitchell Johnson, vaudevillian moustache to the fore, lurking around every corner. Australia will now recognise that improvement only too well after Root's rapid, sure-footed century galvanised England at the start of the Investec Ashes series.
On a slow Cardiff surface, as if designed to nullify Johnson, a recourse that England might turn to all summer, Root blossomed from the outset as he struck 134 from only 166 balls, an innings of attacking intent that made light of England's initial loss of three wickets for 43 on a grouchy Cardiff morning.
With England imperilled, Root needed good fortune to get through his first few deliveries from Mitchell Starc, an inside edge saving him from an lbw decision first ball and Haddin then dropping a very takeable one-handed catch to his right from the next delivery as he dug at a full, wide one. Australia barely reacted, as if they imagined it might be a bump ball. But it was a duck they could have done with: instead, he has broken the chains. There was a reminder of Root's first Ashes hundred at Lord's when he edged temptingly between Haddin and first slip early in his innings and went on to make 180.
Since that Australia whitewash, Root has averaged 85.41 in 13 Tests. It has been an emphatic response, ranking him alongside Australia's Steven Smith as one of the most exciting young batting talents in the game. Root was once derided as a plodder, Smith as technically adrift. Yet they will refresh this age-old contest, as the best young players indubitably do.
If Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes are the embodiment of England's one-day enterprise, Root bears their hopes on his slim shoulders in this Ashes series. His departure, at 280 for 5, with nearly 18 overs remaining left England facing an awkward phase with the second new ball soon due and the further loss of Stokes, after a rumbustious half-century, and Buttler reasserted Australia's threat.
Producing deliberately slow pitches, if that proves to be England's aim, could reduce the appeal of the series to damaging effect, although suspicion of English subterfuge should be tempered by the recognition - as Graeme Swann shrewdly put it on Test Match Special - that you can't take pace out of a Cardiff pitch when there is not any in it in the first place.
No matter, the danger of killing England's renewed appetite for cricket before the salivating had begun was not evident on the first day as Root's enterprise was entertaining enough. His third-wicket stand of 153 in 39 overs with his Yorkshire team mate - and one-time room mate - Gary Ballance was the bedrock of England's innings.
He fell in a manner that would have irked him, driving at a wide one from Starc, whereupon Shane Watson held the catch at slip. Later than it might have been, Starc must have thought. Starc then bowled Stokes with a beauty, holding his index finger to his mouth in a gentle admonishment of Stokes' pre-series fight-fire-with-fire hype. Buttler then chipped Josh Hazlewood tamely to mid-on.
Starc was as blustery as the south Wales weather, the low pressure rushing in whenever he had to align himself against left handers. Hazlewood bowled a probing line and could grow into the series as a more-then-useful replacement for the injured Ryan Harris, if not with quite the same bullish intent. Both finished with three wickets. Nathan Lyon, too, cleverly introduced early in the day by Michael Clarke, quickly claimed the wicket of Alastair Cook and would be reasonably content to go at three an over when England intend to counter his offspin aggressively.
As for Johnson, reaper of 37 wickets in the last Ashes series, he finished wicketless and expensive. Outside Australia and South Africa, where slower pitches reduce his physical threat, his record puts him back in the realm of mere mortals. A streaky first boundary for Cook was a rare success. There was barely a bouncer to be seen all day and when it came, it was hooked over the sightscreen for six by Ben Stokes. The wrong sightscreen, to be fair, a top edge which flew high above the wicketkeeper Haddin.
After the pre-series hoopla of the past few weeks - largely repetitive and tiresome this time around, a consequence of three Ashes contests in two years - the first Test could not begin too soon. There were squally morning showers to contend with, three national anthems - Wales being forever in confusion about the extent of its sporting allegiance - and Cook, who chose to bat in expectation of settled afternoon weather, found the morning a demanding one.
Three England wickets with only 43 on the board - Cook himself, Adam Lyth and Ian Bell dismissed - represented a potent opening to the series for Australia on a sluggish pitch. In the first over, from Starc, two balls reached Haddin on the second bounce, the second of them almost getting a third one in. It looked ominous, but the keeper and slips came up a few yards - a reluctant walk, particularly for an Australian - and nobody much minded after that.
It was Hazlewood, who probably owed his involvement to the injury-enforced retirement of Harris, who made the first incision with his sixth delivery in Ashes Tests. Lyth had clipped Hazlewood confidently to square leg to record England's first boundary but when he tried a repeat the ball flew low to David Warner at gully.
For Cook to fall to offspin in the 14th over of the morning, Lyon already three overs into his spell, was not in the script. But Lyon found gentle turn, Cook attempted his favourite cut shot and Haddin held the edge. Lyon was immediately withdrawn.
There was a failure for Bell, too, Starc's inswinger quickly trapping him lbw. It was a marginal decision but one which England were correct not to review. Starc had been wayward against the left-handers but his inswing carried more threat against right-handers, as Bell had discovered. He now has six scores of 0 or 1 in his last nine Test innings.
That left the bulk of the day with Root and Ballance. Root's off-driven and cut boundaries against Starc signalled the start of England's fight back and Ballance, the more subdued, awoke to take two boundaries off Johnson in the last over of the morning. He occasionally looked unsettled when Johnson fired the ball into his body from around the wicket, and safely edged a few that might have carried on a quicker surface, his stout, broad defensive bat coming with a slight sense of vulnerability.
By tea the dominant memory was the crispness and authority of Root, especially driving on the front foot. There were a few frisky moments, too, and he survived an Australian review on 62 when Nathan Lyon sought an lbw decision, on the sweep, replays showing that the ball had struck Root outside the line of leg stump.
He reached tea only seven short of his hundred, but this time there would be no faltering with a century in his range, as there had been twice against New Zealand at Lord's in May. Instead, it was Ballance who succumbed for 61 in the second over after tea, playing all round a straight one.
Root brought up his hundred with the shot that had been a hallmark of his innings, cover driving Hazlewood, before, feeling his back a little, he soft-pedalled beneath the aggression of Stokes. The battle has begun; runs had rushed ahead at nearly four an over just as England had suggested they would, but Australia could claim that the spoils were evenly shared.
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps