'First ball set things up'

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The Independent Online
Two years ago, when Curtly Ambrose released the first delivery of England's Test match against the West Indies on this ground, the ball soared over Michael Atherton's head and came to rest under the sightscreen as four byes. Two days and a session later, West Indies had taken full advantage of a deceitful wicket and won. If ever the first ball had been the defining moment of a Test, that was it.

Perhaps the first ball here yesterday will be remembered for similar significance.

At one end of the pitch, Mark Taylor, tortured by a crisis of form no other Australian captain has survived, putting his reputation on the line again on a sultry morning with the ball likely to swing, desperate that he and Matt Elliott should begin with a major partnership that could influence not just this contest but the whole series.

At the other, Darren Gough, that bouncy character who epitomises more than any the effervescent mood in the England dressing room, the man who lit the fire that burned right through the Texaco Trophy triumph that did so much for their self-esteem.

Gough ran in, the roar of an expectant crowd growing with every stride, and bowled a delivery to which Taylor offered a tentative push - and missed.

By the sixth over, Taylor was gone; by eight minutes past two the Australian team had gone with him; by the close, England were enjoying a glow of satisfaction as warming as any they have experienced for many a year, while Taylor reflected again on the calls for him to go that he has stubbornly defied so far.

"With the first ball beating the bat, it set things up," Gough said. "From there we went from strength to strength."

There were no complaints about the pitch from either camp, although it would have been a surprise had England found cause to grumble. "It did a bit but it is not a 118 all-out wicket," the Australian coach, Geoff Marsh, said. "England bowled well with the swing while we bowled badly and batted badly."

While Gough's three wickets were arguably the most important in wrecking Australia's top order, the achievements of Devon Malcolm, bowling with great discipline, and Andrew Caddick, returning after his omission from the Texaco series with his third five-wicket haul in Test cricket, were not overshadowed.

"We've bowled out of our skins and deserve to be in this position," Caddick said.

To England's further advantage, Jason Gillespie may not be able to bowl again in the match because of his hamstring strain. With Greg Blewett only able to bat and Andrew Bichel still struggling with a back problem, the Australians are close to sending for Adam Dale or Paul Reiffel as a replacement.

"The pressure is on," Marsh said, "but that's the challenge and that's why we play cricket."

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A MONTH MAKES

"I look at the England team on paper and think they are good players, but they are not tough enough or hungry enough in the field. They don't play as a team, they worry about themselves. When you are out there you don't feel you have got 11 guys against you. They just haven't got that toughness you need to win consistently in Test cricket."

Mark Waugh in the build-up to the Ashes series.

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