Australia had a day to forget but somehow managed to keep a hand on the controls. Not even John Buchanan's wackiest permutations could have prepared his side for the damage that arrived at most corners. But by the end of another astounding Test opening, and despite giving up an incredible 407 runs, nobody looked too concerned. The flustered faces of the opening two sessions were relieved ones that knew things had turned out okay. Considering.
Considering Glenn McGrath was whisked off to hospital before the toss. Considering Ricky Ponting - generously, optimistically, perhaps arrogantly - sent England in on a wicket so good the 10th wicket partnership was untroubled in making 32. Considering Ponting's new bowling combination of old faces was wagon-wheeled around Edgbaston at 5.13 an over. Considering the decision looked worse at every change of over before tea.
Nasser Hussain and Len Hutton spent the rest of their careers regretting similar moves at Brisbane, but Ponting will expect to escape. After McGrath's ankle gave way in the warm-up, Ponting looked around to see a bowler two games into his Test comeback, another trying to recapture the form that took him to the verge of 250 wickets, and a third who arrived ready to pack ice and run drinks. It didn't change his mindset.
Australia were given a glimpse of a McGrath-less future and for long periods it looked as unpleasant as the dreary old Birmingham ground. With Marcus Trescothick thumping with the subtlety of a seal clubber and Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff joining the plunder, the fast bowling cartel was cracking without its leader. The loss was a shock to both sides and while the batsmen enjoyed long exhales, Australia took longer to catch their breath.
A tornado scraped alongside the ground last week but England's whirlwind was also fierce as it blew 132 at lunch and 289 by tea. Unwilling to bunker down, the Australians absorbed some damage and deflected the rest. Trescothick sent Lee for 18 to end the first session, Flintoff's mishit pulls cleared the rope and Pietersen clattered the boundary in bruising displays copied straight from their opponents.
Everybody knew what was needed to clean up the mess: McGrath's remarkable method of attacking containment. While McGrath was avoiding hospital orderlies as he was diagnosed with grade two ligament damage, his team-mates' figures were desperate for surgery. England's batsmen had been allowed to pull and drive, cover was a scoring zone rather than something to take, and Shane Warne clocked in during the first hour.
Warne provided the first hope, but it was Michael Kasprowicz and Jason Gillespie who settled the team and regained its composure. Relegated to 12th man by Lee at Lord's, Kasprowicz stepped back in and showed his value with the wickets of Trescothick and Ian Bell in the same over. While Lee was floored, Kasprowicz nipped and zipped away and Gillespie joined him with spark missing during much of the tour. It was a crucial contribution from two bowlers who have worked efficiently alongside McGrath since last year's India series.
By the time Kasprowicz removed Geraint Jones, Gillespie had taken his 250th Test victim, the increasingly dangerous Flintoff, and England had become a manageable 293 for six. The lower-order resistance, which proved again the batsman-friendly qualities of the pitch, was eventually mopped up by Warne, who had delivered a stunning first-session legspinner to remove Andrew Strauss. And as Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer walked out into rain that ended the day they had further reasons to offer cheeky smiles.
Faced with another gale that threatened to blow out of control, Australia staged a recovery missing the swift urgency of Lord's. However, Ponting's men know they can shake off almost any storm, while Michael Vaughan's outfit only hope they can. It is an important difference and will be a crucial factor in the outcome of the series.
England vs Australia
Australia tour of England and Scotland
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo