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England have no choice but to cling to the positives

Tourists will use Pope-Buttler partnership as evidence their batting line-up can succeed in Australia

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
England have no choice but to cling to the positives. A chastening opening day of the Ashes series at the Gabba saw them bowled out for 147 in 50.1 overs, which represented a recovery of sorts from 11 for 3, 29 for 4 and 60 for 5, but they will use Ollie Pope's partnership with Jos Buttler as evidence that their batting line-up can be successful in Australia, so long as their top order can make it through the new ball.
Pope and Buttler combined for a 52-run stand for the sixth wicket, which represented the only hour of the first day during which England controlled the pace of the game. Pope was typically busy, making it hard for Australia's seamers to set him up by scampering through for sharp singles, while Buttler's innings encapsulated the "fearless" approach he had pledged to take in this series, lofting over the infield and capitalising on width.
Neither batter kicked on, Buttler top-scoring with 39, but if England are to retain any hope of winning - or even drawing - this series then they must see the partnership as proof that there will be opportunities for big runs against the old ball and put their top order's struggles down to poor preparation and opening-day nerves.
Rory Burns' tally of ducks in 2021 - six, the record for an opening batter in a calendar year - reflects the fact he is vulnerable early in his innings but he would surely expect to clip Mitchell Starc's leg-stump half-volley away for four more often than not, but for the pressure of the first session of an Ashes series. Dawid Malan's success in the 2017-18 series indicates that he should adapt to the extra bounce on Australian pitches once he has had the chance to bat on them, while Joe Root and Ben Stokes are their two best batters and will not fail consistently throughout the series.
India's top order demonstrated in 2020-21 that batting for long periods to set the game up for an attacking middle order is a method that works for touring teams in Australia, not least against a side that relies heavily on three frontline quicks. England lost their fifth wicket after 26.4 overs on Wednesday; at the same stage last winter, India lost more than two wickets only twice in eight innings, one of them in their freak 36 all out at Adelaide.
"If we had managed to get through that first two hours one down, for example, I think we could have made the most of it with a softer ball and a slower pitch," Pope said. "We've just got to execute better, particularly in the first two hours of the game.
"Personally I like to come out with a lot of intent. I always want to move the scoreboard along, especially if the ball is in my area, and a situation like that lends itself to that as well. You need to get your runs on the board. The ball got a little bit softer - the seam wasn't quite as pronounced, so maybe the ball didn't nip around as much.
"Jos came in and took the pressure off. Obviously it's frustrating that neither of us could go on and push for a bigger score. It would have been nice for us to both extend our innings and make 70s, 80s or 100s, but we weren't able to today. At the time, he took the pressure off nicely, took the pressure off me and suddenly the scoreboard was ticking along pretty well. He's ridiculously talented and reads the situation of the game and if he feels that he puts his best foot forward by doing that, that's what he'll do."
There is too much on the line for England in this series for them to rip up their blueprint after a single innings, however poorly they batted: Root has accepted that it will "define my captaincy" while Chris Silverwood highlighted winning back the urn as his top priority when he was appointed two years ago.
There is no doubt that their confidence will have been hit, but Pope insisted that a tough start would not be a "massive dent". Instead, he stressed that the crucial question was how they will react to a disappointing day, and whether their seamers can make early inroads on a helpful pitch.
"We're going to keep fighting," Pope said. "We've got to see both sides bat on this wicket. We don't know how it's going to react tomorrow but we're going to come back stronger and hopefully get a good score on the board second dig after knocking them over.
"Our preparation from the mental side has gone well. We've spoken about everything, obviously we haven't performed as well as we would have wanted today but both teams have got to bat on it. We're not going to get too down about today now and we'll come back hard tomorrow."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98