Throughout this tour, Stuart Broad has had a marginally worse press in this country than Ned Kelly. He has become the man that all Australia loves to hate and the campaign of loathing reached its apogee when England reached Queensland.
So morally outraged was the local paper by his frankly unwelcome presence in the midst of its citizens that it baldly declared its refusal to use his name during the course of the First Test. While it might save in ink costs, it promises to leave an awful hole in the scoreboard details. Had it adopted a similar approach to Australia’s most infamous outlaw it would have caused no end of problems: “Wanted, man with beard and Irish surname.” While the man himself was escaping with no end of swag.
Listen to Stephen Brenkley and Tom Collomosse discuss the first day of the first Test by clicking play on the image above
Broad, booed and jeered by the crowd, took five wickets on the opening day of the series to undermine, as soon as it began, Australia’s attempt to regain the Ashes. He was precise without being venomous, disciplined without being ferocious and altogether too potent for some wretchedly ragged batting. He loved it so much that he brought in a copy of the offending paper to his press conference.
Although Australia did not completely surrender, they were indebted solely to their lower order batting for that. Brad Haddin, in his 50 Test, and Mitchell Johnson put on 114 to prevent disaster, Australia’s second highest seventh-wicket partnership at The Gabba.
The seminal moment of the day and perhaps of the series arrived a few minutes after lunch. Michael Clarke, the Australia captain and most formidable batsman, was at the wicket. His side badly needed him at the upper limits of his experience and class.
There was no big trouble then but there was the sniff of it. Two wickets had already gone. Broad bowled him a bunch of full-length balls, almost half-volleys to make him feel at home. Clarke must have known what was coming.
England had dismantled his defences during the summer with a succession of hostile bouncers. Broad had dismissed him five times in the series. Then it arrived. It was straight and it was fast and it was heading for Clarke’s skull.
He played no sort of shot worthy of the name but prodded a bat limply at the rising ball. Crucially, he turned his head away, averting his eyes from the danger. It did not look accomplished and for a man with a Test batting average in the fifties it looked grotesque.
The ball went almost in slow motion to Ian Bell at short leg. It was the sort of catch of which career short legs like Bell dream but which almost never become reality. Normally they are scratching around their ankles trying to scoop up quarter chances before they hit the dirt.
England knew they were in the game then. At some point in this series, Clarke will no doubt click as he did in Manchester last summer but these opponents and this bowler have found a weakness they are eager and quick to exploit.
When Johnson said later that Clarke had something he still needed to keep working on it really meant that Australia’s captain is in profound difficulties. He has to do something pretty smartly now to persuade his team, and perhaps to convince himself that this fallibility against short pitched bowling is not terminal.
No batsman likes it, even the happy hookers, but most of the men who have been around the block a time or two reach a compromise with it. They either leave it or they take it on. It may be time, in truth it may well be past the time, Clarke may well have to seek advice from Steve Waugh.
For the last 10 years of his career, Waugh was forced to adapt his method to short-pitched bowling. He did it by ignoring it as steadfastly as if he was sending it to Coventry. Clarke engages with it as though he dare not ignore it and then finds he has nothing at all worth saying at all.
Broad is a rhythm bowler but he might have been surprised to strike quite so early on the opening day when Chris Rogers made a porridge of a short ball which he fended to gully. David Warner played pleasantly, Shane Watson played stoically but the latter’s dismissal on the stroke of the luncheon bell, hanging his bat outside off stump, exposed Clarke.
By now, Broad was in one of those irrepressible moods. If they wanted to cast him as public enemy number one that was fine with him. After Clarke he had Warner.
At 132 for six Australia were looking like suckers. The debutant George Bailey, the occasion too much perhaps, looked hesitant, Steve Smith was a bit too frisky. They fell to Chris Tremlett and Jimmy Anderson. Fortress Gabba was being assailed by the poms.
Haddin and Johnson brought some calm but breaches had been made. There was time to come back, there is always time to come back on the first day of a long series but everyone present knew that frailties had been put on public display once more.
Johnson played with spirit before he became Broad’s fifth victim with the second new ball. There were no wickets on the first day for Graeme Swann, England’s off spinner but he bowled a long spell from the Stanley Road End and if Australia intend to clamber into him during these Ashes he will make them work hard to do so. He went at three an over, the odd big shot was played against him but it was Australia’s toss and England’s day.