Australia's hopes of securing a second Ashes victory lasted three miserable and revealing hours. Put in to bat on a track made to measure for an England attack raised on damp decks and roly-poly pudding, the hosts fell in an embarrassing heap. Hard as he tried even Ricky Ponting could not resist the dancing deliveries sent down by skilful operators.
From the toss onwards everything went wrong for the Aussies. Had the Poms been given the choice they could not have ordered a pitch and atmosphere more likely to serve their purposes. Openers of yesteryear recalled awkward mornings spent trying to subdue probing seamers on northern pitches surrounded by sawdust and grumbling under heavy cloud. Two of the speedsters come from those quarters and knew full well the lengths and lines to bowl. Contrastingly, the home batsmen seemed to think they were playing on a shirtfront.
Had the Australians adapted their game to suit the conditions they might have survived their period of peril. Due diligence might have brought a respectable tally. Instead they drove without proper care and attention. Ponting alone had no cause to curse himself. Shane Watson was removed by a corker but he had been riding his luck. None of the rest displayed the resources required to meet the challenge. Fragile techniques were exposed and wayward shots were punished. None of the batsmen played late or straight enough. The older hands did not move their feet into position. Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin drove on the rise and even Mike Hussey looked off balance.
Alas, the Facebook generation, the T20 swashbucklers, flattered to deceive. In order to take a toll of yorkers, 20-over batsmen learn to drive with open shoulders and hips. Accordingly, they are ill-placed to deal with late swing. Australia is not going to produce top-class batsmen until this dilemma is resolved. Castles cannot be built on sand.
England enjoyed the rub of the green but also displayed incomparably more skill. Jimmy Anderson led the way with a bravura display of swing bowling. He has mastered the subtleties of his craft. In his younger days he could bend the ball but could not control its direction. Simply, he did not understand how it all worked and so was unable to correct the errors that creep into all games, thieves in the night that can steal confidence and competence.
These days Anderson knows his business inside out. Cricket does not change half as much as each generation supposes. To watch him here was to see a craft raised almost to the point of artistry. Steven Smith was tormented with inswingers and informed by raised arms that the ball had shaved the stumps, a ruse calculated to unsettle his mind. It was the sort of theatrics Shane Warne used in his time.
Now it was merely a matter of time before Anderson delivered his outswinger. Already he knew that his opponent was worried. Wary of the inswinger, Smith started reaching forwards and playing at the deliveries he wanted to ignore. Anderson spotted his vulnerability, took his time and sent down a perfectly pitched outswinger that duly took the edge. The set-up had been followed by the execution. In isolation it was a poor dismissal.
Put into context, the error was not quite as bad.
Chris Tremlett was no less impressive. Tall, upright and strong, he had been held back by a lack of self-belief. Observers said he had all the attributes a fast bowler needed except conviction. Somewhere in the last few months he dared to grasp the nettle and the results are obvious. It has been one of the England think tank's many triumphs. Tremlett produced the ball of the day to dismiss Ponting.
Tim Bresnan was the last and by no means least of an impressive trinity. The England selectors reckoned his fuller length might suit this surface. It was a gamble that paid off handsomely. Bresnan worked, drew the batsmen forward and deserved his wickets.
Australia's rally had lasted half a day. It's impossible to guess how the contest might have gone had the hosts won the toss. But it's hard to imagine England rolling over so feebly.Reuse content