The first session of the First Test has often proved a pivotal passage of play in Ashes series Down Under. Even the first ball; Steve Harmison’s wide to second slip in 2006, or Michael Slater smashing Phil DeFreitas through cover point for four in 1994. It tends to “set the tone”, as the pundits like to say – and the tone in the Sky Sports commentary box these days is like a dressing-room banter free-for-all.
In Nasser Hussain’s case the series-defining moment came before a ball had even been bowled. In 2002 he won the toss at Brisbane and put Australia in to bat. The Aussies got 492 and he has never lived it down.
Now he is installed on Sky with almost all the other England captains of the last 20 years, and as Jimmy Anderson sent down a disappointingly dull first ball, the boys in the box unearthed footage of that fateful toss – you can find anything on YouTube – and were teasing Hussain mercilessly.
It lasted for most of the first session, and after a while all these old captains sound the same. So it was a relief when they were relieved by David Gower and Sir Ian Botham, who reminisced about the good old days of 1986-87 – when England last won at The Gabba thanks to Botham’s 138 and there were real stories to tell.
Back then there was a dog track around the boundary and at the end of the day the players would crack open the brews, fire up the Barbie and lose lots of money. “You didn’t really want to leave the ground,” said Botham. “You didn’t…very often,” Gower added.
Gower is always teased for being posh. As an aloof sort he tends to rise above all the banter – literally at times. He got in to trouble on the 1990-91 tour for flying in a Tiger Moth over the ground when England played a state game in Queensland, and on the third morning he was back up in the sky – the real one, that is – in a rickety old plane, dressed to the nines and grinning expansively.
Cue the boys in the box coming up with “tally-ho chaps” and “chocks away” in plummy voices. With a long Ashes winter ahead, these midnight flights of fancy are already seeming like a case of bandits at 12 o’clock.