From the moment it became known that Mark Taylor had won the toss, that Michael Atherton's new and supposedly "lucky" coin had smiled no more kindly on him than the four-time loser he had discarded in its favour, there was a sense of inevitability that almost instantly conveyed itself to the crowd.
The heady atmosphere of Edgbaston in the first week of June seemed a good deal more than nine weeks ago, Atherton's exhortation to the public to bottle up the Birmingham spirit and carry it with them through the series long forgotten words.
There was a roar of sorts as the recalled Devon Malcolm ran in to bowl the first delivery of the match, but peaceful sunbathing soon appeared to have greater appeal than getting behind our beleaguered boys. Even the entry into Test cricket of the Hollioake brothers, whose presence, we had been told, would "fire the nation's imagination", stirred only negligible excitement.
Ben, whom Atherton had hoped would lend his youthful lack of inhibition to England's cause, began with three overs of little distinction and was promptly rewrapped in cotton wool. This worked insomuch as he returned later to dismiss Greg Blewett with a long hop, but did little to deflate the swelling confidence of the opposition.
The Australian camp now gleefully perceive English cricket as a game "in disarray", the prospect of a fifth successive Ashes series loss seen as the largest single factor behind the far-reaching reforms outlined by Lord MacLaurin this week. To their eyes, moreover, the selection of the Hollioakes carries with it the smack of desperation.
It was not quite a repeat of 1989, when Mark Taylor batted all day with Geoff Marsh and Australia finished 301 without loss, but there were too many similarities for comfort for Atherton, who made his Test debut in that match and may yet remember this one as the begin- ning of the end of his captaincy.
The Hollioakes apart, the debutant in this match is the groundsman, Steve Birks, formerly with Derbyshire, whose work so far has been well received, leading to closer contests on a square which had become notoriously lifeless.
"Ideally, that is what I would want from the Test pitch," Birks said before the start. Unfortunately, from England's position, the ideal has not been achieved.Reuse content