It is easier to escape from Alcatraz than Fortress Gabba with dreams of the Ashes still intact. England have spent almost a quarter of a century being mistreated in the place, so badly bruised and tormented that recovery was quite beyond them. And all concerned, deep in their souls, knew it. Their visas were for three months, which was at least two longer than strictly necessary.
Not this time. England did not win the first Test against Australia yesterday but the draw they crafted with such profound resilience was a statement of intent. The way in which they batted in their second innings, declaring on an unprecedented 517 for 1, said that they were fed up of being tortured in Brisbane and all points thereafter and are simply not prepared to put up with it any more.
It has persuaded Australia at this formative stage of the series to call for reinforcements. So alarmed were their selectors at the lack of penetration, at the sight of their fortress becoming a house of cards, that they immediately summoned up two fast bowlers to add to their squad for the second Test match, which begins in Adelaide on Friday. One, 29-year-old Doug Bollinger, has been pulled out of a Sheffield Shield match, the other, Ryan Harris, 31, has been bowling with a knee still recuperating from surgery. Their estimable captain Ricky Ponting suggested last night that Harris, who has performed above capacity in his international career so far, belonged in the Test team. But Ponting is not a selector. The panel that does pick the side will have to balance the strengths and weaknesses of Mitchell Johnson, a former World Cricketer of the Year, who looked so lacklustre in Brisbane that the accolade defied belief. The Aussies are not finished but they are scared.
Perhaps it helped England as they launched their recovery that Australia are not the Australia that have turned up here every time in the past five Ashes series, with arch exponents of torture at their disposal ready to act on a whim. But England were still in a position of such peril on the third evening that finishing them off might have been as tough as putting a fist through a wet paper bag.
They responded by breaking a litany of records. The mammoth efforts of the captain Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook on the fourth day were followed on the fifth by more extraordinary batting from Cook and Jonathan Trott. They shared an unbroken second-wicket partnership of 329, England's highest for any wicket in Australia.
Cook scored 235 not out, the highest score by any batsman at The Gabba. Although two English batsmen, Tip Foster and Wally Hammond, have made more runs, none has spent longer than Cook's 10 hours and 25 minutes at the crease. He faced 428 balls and hit 27 fours, some, perhaps more extraordinarily, with vintage cover drives.
Strauss, his captain, was not of a mind to minimise the achievement. "I'm not great on my cricketing history but you would be hard-pressed to think of a better innings in Australia," he said. "It must have been a long time ago that anybody batted as well as Cookie did. The situation in which he came in and the concentration he showed to see it through for a long period of time made it a very special innings for any England player." Tip and Wally and a few others who did not quite scale such statistical heights might have a case for an argument but yesterday was not the time for it.
Cook, by his own admission, is not a stylist and much of the past year has been a struggle for him, aggravated by his unwieldy method. But only one batsman has scored more Test runs than Cook's 4,662 at a younger age and his name is Sachin Tendulkar. While mentioning great batsmen, he knocked another into a cocked hat yesterday. Don Bradman's innings of 226 had stood as the highest at The Gabba since the first Test at the ground in 1931.
"The night before I was probably the most nervous I have ever been," said Cook. "The drive into the ground, the hype, the national anthems make it a very nerve-wracking time. It gave me a lot of confidence to get through that first two hours.
"I hadn't done it in the last two Ashes series. I was very disappointed to get out in that first innings. When you get to 67 it's the time to cash in and I was ultra-determined to make it count in the second."
As for Trott, unbeaten on 135, there will be petitions in the House shortly for him to be made some kind of honorary Englishman, despite his South African roots. This was his second Test match against Australia and his second hundred to go with the two other Test centuries he has made. Like Cook, Trott does not bring an aesthetic quality to his batting and he scratches at the crease like a dog agitatedly searching for a bone, but he has delivered for England in almost every way. He was dropped on 75 by Michael Clarke at slip. It was a regulation offering but it was one of five catches missed by Australia in England's second innings.
The caveats in lauding the second-wicket pair's achievement are minimal but pertinent. This was Australia at The Gabba but if it was a different Australia it was also a different Gabba. The pitch offered some encouragement to persuade bowlers that their profession was worthwhile on the first two days but afterwards it grew more and more benign without the pace and carry bestowed by reputation. The tally of wickets on each of the days was 10, five, five, one and one, and it does quite tell a story of strong batting and weak bowling.
That said, England's relief – bordering on joy – deserved to be boundless. They and everyone else knew that another defeat in Brisbane would have a debilitating effect. Their predecessors had lost four out of the last five opening Tests and the draw in the other was achieved only by rain. But now that Australia have shown they cannot win at their fortress, their banker result, the hue of the series has changed.
Strauss said: "Everyone talks about the importance of the first Test match here in Australia so to get through unscathed after the position we were in is a great effort, though clearly we would have liked to win the game."
He declared to that end as a final throw of the dice with 41 overs left, just to see if their opponents might crumble. They did not. England took an early wicket but it only allowed Ponting to emerge and put his stamp on proceedings with a rapid fifty. The deck was still flat.
Ponting, however, was aware the Poms had made a point or two. "One for 500 is a pretty demanding scorecard, isn't it?" he said. "There is no hiding the fact we could have bowled better as a group. I felt I had exhausted every option with field placings and tactics but we just weren't able to break their top three players. If we get another flat pitch in Adelaide we've got to bowl better, that's for sure."
As usual, Strauss was trying not to get too far ahead of himself. "There will be a spring in our step going into Adelaide but we have to transfer that to the pitch," he said. "It's all very well strutting round the hotel lobby feeling good about yourself, you need to turn that into runs and wickets."
Howzat? five things England must do better
1 First-innings totals
England know that to win the Ashes, first-innings totals are vital. For all their heroic endeavours in the first Test, their chances of nailing a rare victory at Fortress Gabba were undermined by sleepwalking their way to a moderate first-innings score of 261. This is precisely what they had promised they would not do.
2 Swanny must come to the party
For England to have a sniff of a chance, the world's top-ranked spin bowler has to perform two essential functions. In the first innings, Graeme Swann must play a holding role while the seamers are rotated at one end. In the second, he must strike fear into the very soul of the opponents. He was denied the opportunity to do the latter, but did not adequately adjust his length to fulfil the former.
3 Is the four bowler policy the thing?
In an ideal world, as the coach Andy Flower has frequently averred, England would have an all-rounder who was a capable fourth seamer and who could bat at six. They haven't and it shows. The four bowlers all put in their share of work at Brisbane – as did the fifth, Paul Collingwood, who had to bowl 12 overs. On flatter decks to come, it will tell more.
4 Stay awake in the field
No matter all the drills and the fitness work, it is hard to keep going when the opposition is grinding you down. But some of England's mistakes on the third day, when Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin were on parade, were sloppy. They also dropped three (hard) chances in the match and Collingwood, who took two sharp slip catches in the first innings, missed one yesterday (Shane Watson off Swann) – worryingly his sixth drop of the tour so far.
5 Use the review system better
England embrace the Umpire Decision Review System with deep reluctance as they showed when they went whingeing to the ICC after a verdict went against them in South Africa earlier this year. But they need to raise their game in deciding when to ask for a review. The decision to ask for a re-examination of an lbw appeal against Watson, always marginal, meant that they had run out of reviews when Hussey was stone dead later on but reprieved. Perhaps there is a better system – ie ask the umpires to run it – but for now the one that is in place should be used properly.
Day Five scoreboard
First Ashes Test, The Gabba, Brisbane (Final day of five): England drew with Australia
England won toss
ENGLAND First Innings 260 (76.5 overs; I R Bell 76, A N Cook 67; P M Siddle 6-54).
AUSTRALIA First Innings 481 (158.4 overs; M E K Hussey 195, B J Haddin 136, S M Katich 50; S T Finn 6-125)
ENGLAND Second Innings
Overnight: 309-1 (A J Strauss 110)
A N Cook not out 235
428 balls 27 fours
I J Trott not out 135
266 balls 19 fours
Extras (b 17, lb 4, w 10, nb 6) 37
Total (1 wkt dec, 152 overs) 517
Fall: 1-188 (Strauss).
Did not bat: K P Pietersen, P D Collingwood, I R Bell, †M J Prior, S C J Broad, G P Swann, J M Anderson, S T Finn.
Bowling: B Hilfenhaus 32-8-82-0 (w1 nb3) (6-3-6-0, 5-0-14-0, 7-0-29-0, 8-1-26-0, 6-4-7-0), P Siddle 24-4-90-0 (w2 nb3) (4-2-7-0, 3-0-16-0, 4-0-21-0, 4-0-11-0, 4-1-12-0, 5-1-23-0), M North 19-3-47-1 (2-0-5-0, 2-0-2-0, 8-2-15-1, 4-1-17-0, 3-0-8-0), M Johnson 27-5-104-0 (w1) (2-2-0-0, 6-0-19-0, 5-1-22-0, 5-1-24-0, 4-1-21-0, 5-0-18-0), X Doherty 35-5-107-0 (1-1-0-0, 2-0-10-0, 10-1-25-0, 2-0-12-0, 3-1-5-0, 17-2-55-0), S Watson 15-2-66-0 (w2) (5-0-22-0, 1-1-0-0, 2-1-3-0, 2-0-9-0, 3-0-16-0, 2-0-16-0).
Final day progress: 350 in 115.3 overs, 400 in 123 overs, Lunch 439-1 (Cook 201, Trott 100) 133 overs, 450 in 138.1 overs, 500 in 147 overs. Cook 150: 302 balls 13 fours. Cook 200: 361 balls 22 fours. Trott 100: 213 balls 15 fours.
AUSTRALIA Second Innings
S R Watson not out 41
97 balls 4 fours
S M Katich c Strauss b Broad 4
*R T Ponting not out 51
43 balls 4 fours 1 six
Extras (b 4, lb 1, w 1, pen 5) 11
Total (1 wkt, 26 overs) 107
Fall: 1-5 (Katich).
Did not bat: 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 5-2-15-0 (one spell), S Broad 7-1-18-1 (w1) (one spell), G Swann 8-0-33-0 (one spell), S Finn 4-0-25-0 (one spell), K Pietersen 2-0-6-0 (one spell).
Final day progress: Tea 11-1 (Watson 0, Ponting 6) 7 overs, 50 in 15.2 overs, 100 in 25 overs. Ponting 50: 40 balls, 4 fours, 1 six.
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) & B R Doctrove (W Indies).
TV replay umpire: A L Hill (NZ).
Match referee: P R Reiffel (NZ).