Hat-trick heroics and Bell's beauty set Ashes alight in gripping style

England 260 Australia 25-0

For days, weeks, months, years, the Ashes had been promoted as some sort of epic contest whose sense of theatre could not be matched. What tosh that turned out to be. It was far better than that. These marketing chappies really ought to get their hype in order.

From the first over, the opening day of the 2010-11 series could not have been more gripping and by its end it was difficult to think how it could continue like this. But it will, it will because it always has.

The day was marked by two events of great consequence. The England captain, Andrew Strauss, was dismissed by the third ball of the series, bowled by Ben Hilfenhaus, which must have sent shockwaves through the tourists. When it looked in the afternoon as though a recovery had been effectively mounted, Peter Siddle took a hat-trick which utterly undermined it.

Siddle's feat, part of an exemplary exhibition of full-length swing bowling, was remarkable for several reasons.

He was returning to Test cricket after an enforced break of 10 months caused by a stress fracture to his back and was a contentious selection for this match ahead of Doug Bollinger.

He was only the fourth Australian to take a hat-trick in an Ashes Test, the ninth in all and the first since Shane Warne in Melbourne 16 years ago. He was, not surprisingly, the first bowler to take a hat-trick on his birthday and the first Australian to do so at The Gabba.

Siddle, who was turning 26, said: "I don't want to be mean to all the friends and family who have bought me presents over the years but that was probably the best present I could ever have." It was, to boot, the best present the series could have been given.

England would have hoped for considerably more after winning the toss and the last thing they wanted was to see their leader cut down before the preliminary new-ball skirmishes were done. Strauss will have been disappointed with the shot which led to his downfall, essaying a cut to a ball too close to his body for the purpose.

Doubtless he was trying to impose his authority on the series as early as possible. There used to be a saying in English cricket about not cutting until May was out. Perhaps in Ashes Test matches it would be better to avoid it until the first over is done.

England gradually restored order to the innings and there were many bright parts to it. Kevin Pietersen played with aplomb and if he was out too typically driving and edging a good ball to slip, there were indications that the old Pietersen is not a creature entirely of the past.

That was Siddle's first intervention in mid-afternoon and when he snared Paul Collingwood in his next over, an injudicious push outside off stump being held at third slip, England were in trouble once more. There followed a partnership of 72 between Alastair Cook and Ian Bell which promised to pull England out of the mire.

Cook was at his least fluent for large parts of his innings and when Cook is at his least fluent it is not necessarily pretty. But he stuck at it and, though he was dropped at point by the debutant left-arm spinner, Xavier Doherty, when he was 26, he deserved his half century.

The unwieldiness of Cook was possibly brought more sharply into focus by Bell, who batted with charm and control. It was a kind of cricketing version of Beauty and the Beast for the 155 balls that they were together. But they were propelling England to security, Australia had resorted to defensive methods, placing the ball well outside off stump, preying on the batsmens' patience. By and large the bowlers had struggled to find the appropriate length and Mitchell Johnson was particularly ineffective.

Siddle turned the innings on its head in the 66th over. His wickets with the third, fourth and fifth balls represented a hat-trick of high authenticity. Cook's vigil was ended when he edged a ball going across him which seemed to have a little more effort put into it.

Matt Prior was then beaten on the drive by a full straight delivery. He heard but did not look at the death rattle behind him. In bounded Stuart Broad, fresh from his last Test innings of 169 at Lord's in August. Siddle later claimed that his intention was to aim for the top of off stump and merely executed it badly. The ball swung and hit Broad full on the right foot.

For all the world, Aleem Dar's lbw decision looked correct but Broad asked for a review. The ground, alive with passion, was suddenly stopped in its tracks. But there could be only one decision once the replays were shown, the one Dar had already given.

It was a marvellous day for the virtues of good old-fashioned umpiring. In all, four reviews were requested, two by Australia and two by England, all of them at Dar's end and all of them finding in favour of the original decision. Dar would have been justified in brandishing his World Umpire of the Year trophy which he won for the second successive time at the recent ICC annual awards.

The only other hat-trick to have been taken at The Gabba was by the West Indies fast bowler Courtney Walsh, notable for being spread across the first and second innings 22 years ago. Siddle gained another leg before verdict against Graeme Swann (another failed referral) and finished with innings figures of 6 for 54, his best in Test cricket.

Bell holed out to extra cover for 76, rightly deciding that he had to try to score quickly. It was the ninth time in 26 innings against Australia that he had scored a fifty without converting it to a hundred – and he was annoyed, extremely annoyed – but the manner in which he gathered his runs suggests that this unfortunate sequence will be ended before this series is out. It could not have had a more thrilling start. The real thing always was better than the hype.

Gabba scoreboard

Brisbane (First day of five) Australia trail England by 235 runs with all first-innings wickets remaining; England won toss

England: First Innings

*A Strauss c Hussey b Hilfenhaus 0, 3 balls

A Cook c Watson b Siddle 67, 168 balls 6 fours

J Trott b Watson 29, 53 balls 5 fours

K Pietersen c Ponting b Siddle 43, 70 balls 6 fours

P Collingwood c Ponting b Siddle 4, 8 balls 1 four

I Bell c Watson b Doherty 76, 131 balls 8 fours

†M Prior b Siddle 0, 1 ball

S Broad lbw b Siddle 0, 1 ball

G Swann lbw b Siddle 10, 9 balls 1 four

J Anderson b Doherty 11, 22 balls 2 fours

S Finn not out 0, 0 balls

Extras (lb 8, w 7, nb 5) 20

Total (76.5 overs) 260

Fall 1-0 (Strauss), 2-41 (Trott), 3-117 (Pietersen), 4-125 (Collingwood), 5-197 (Cook), 6-197 (Prior), 7-197 (Broad), 8-228 (Swann), 9-254 (Bell), 10-260 (Anderson).

Bowling B Hilfenhaus 19-4-60-1 (w2, nb2) (5-1-20-1, 2-0-8-0, 5-2-9-0, 6-1-18-0), P Siddle 16-3-54-6 (w2, nb2) (6-1-12-0, 4-1-16-2, 6-1-26-4), M Johnson 15-2-66-0 (3-0-11-0, 6-1-27-0, 3-1-8-0, 3-0-20-0), S Watson 12-2-30-1 (w3, nb1) (6-1-15-1, 6-1-15-0), X Doherty 13.5-3-41-2 (3-0-11-0, 9-3-23-0, 1.5-0-7-2), M North 1-0-1-0.

Progress First day: 50 in 15.2 overs, Lunch 86-2 (Cook 29, Pietersen 23, 26 overs), 100 in 28.3 overs, 150 in 46.5 overs, Tea 172-4 (Cook 60, Bell 26, 56 overs), 200 in 66.5 overs, 250 in 75.2 overs. Cook: 50 127 balls 4 fours; Bell: 50 103 balls 5 fours.

Australia: First Innings

S Watson not out 9, 23 balls 1 four

S Katich not out 15, 19 balls 2 fours

Extras (lb 1) 1

Total (0 wkts, 7 overs) 25

To bat *R T Ponting, M J Clarke, M E K Hussey, M J North, †B J Haddin, M G Johnson, X J Doherty, P M Siddle, B W Hilfenhaus.

Bowling J Anderson 3-1-5-0 (one spell), S Broad 3-0-9-0 (one spell), G Swann 1-0-10-0.

Umpires Aleem Dar & B R Doctrove

Match referee P R Reiffel

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