21 November 2013

The Ashes: 1st Test, day 1


Australia 1st innings:
8/278 from 90 overs
Brad Haddin 78*, Mitchell Johnson 64, David Warner 49
Stuart Broad 5-65, James Anderson 2-61

Verdict: Day 1 goes to England, despite our lower order resistance and tremendous fight!

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The Gabba, the morning of an Ashes series opener, and a blank scoreboard. It's special and it's history. Come the close of play on day 1, the scoreboard tells a tale and the history of a new Ashes series starts to be written. This series has been a build up with a sort of low profile in Australia and the expectations haven't been high. However, the day is done and there was some good cricket to kick start this series as England look to hold onto the urn for four series, while we fight to regain it for the first time since 2006/07.

The day started off with George Bailey becoming Baggy Green number 436. He received his cap from Mark Taylor. He would have been so nervous but he would have known Test match cricket is completely different to the ODI arena he has thrived within. It's that form that gave him this chance. His dismissal came with just 3 runs on the board and he had one to close to his body which was tight to leave, hard to defend and it was good execution on James Anderson's part. Bailey was probably fighting for some bat on ball early on. Not impatience, just eagerness and heavy nerves. He has another chance soon, don't write him off.

Chris Rogers can be forgiven. That delivery was one that nipped off the seam, took him by surprise and was ultimately a bloody fine piece of bowling from Australia's favourite foe, Stuart Broad. Chris has been in steady form for Victoria and he had a beauty of a delivery early on in his innings - it happens, in form or not.

Broad claimed a 5fer, which was fully deserved and will be pumped up after copping some expected crowd abuse.

Perhaps the Gabba viewers should have avoided booing Broad and rather taken Allan Border's advice in giving him the silent treatment instead.

David Warner played with his natural game and boastful confidence. His shot selection was sound and his confidence was evident. His natural hitting and momentum brought about his downfall with a soft dismissal on 49, caught by his nemesis Kevin Pietersen. It's a good sign for us Australian supporters seeing how Warner went. This is only the first game of the series and he looked very good out there. I am positive on his output to come.

My worries regarding Shane Watson rest on his fitness. He was cleared to play with limited bowling duties to be expected - immediately a set back for us. However, no one is heavily knocking on the door to replace him so I am inclined to agree with the Watson inclusion but it's tough knowing he isn't one hundred percent come his body. He didn't get a chance to really put his hamstring to the test and despite the patient application shown, his dismissal was a push with firm hands to a delivery pitched full and one he could've left. The catch at second slip was too easy. Broad foxed him and it was patience from the bowler, not Watson, which contradicted his efforts.

On the note of foxing batsmen, Broad's finest moment was the removal of Michael Clarke.

Having watched the build up to that dismissal, Broad had pitched up his deliveries, making the batsmen play or decide whether to leave them or defend them. Then he sprung a surprise on Clarkey come the fourth ball of the over, as he dug one in short, just back of a length which nipped off the seam and had him in two minds. He'd committed to the shot but he'd also been beaten for pace, beaten for focus, and beaten tactically in the moment. All Clarkey could do was fend off the delivery with eyes off the ball. Our number one batsmen was rattled in his first innings of the series but, like Chris Rogers, received an excellent delivery early in his innings.

Steven Smith made a start and, like David Warner, was looking good but sadly his start went on by as a wasted opportunity. This has been a trend in Australian cricket for a long time. Despite having excellent batsmen, it's a case of players having to learn how to show more tenacious application. Steven Smith is coming of age and has been in brilliant form. He can convert it at the highest level and, like Warner again, he showed us he is in form and is in a good enough place to build his profile and stack his runs as we progress throughout this series, and progress we must.

Our downfall today as at team came from Stuart Broad almost as a one man attack on the scorecard. He claimed our top order and a resourceful Mitchell Johnson. We lost two key batsmen for single figures, and three having made starts to their innings. It made it very difficult for us to push on with enough runs on the board to dictate the game but we were lucky to have one man showing glimpses of his batting brutality dating back to 2009, while the other is fighting like a dog to hold onto his job as number one keeper/batsman in Australia.

Mitchell Johnson and Brad Haddin batted beautifully today, with strong, technically sound shots down the ground and powerfully into the gaps. The straight bat shots were brought out to attack, the cross bat shots were used to steer the ball around and rotate the strike. It's been refreshing to see the manner in which these two Baggy Greeners not only played their shots, but the way they fought for us and valued their wickets.

Haddin - playing his 50th Test for Australia (well done Hads) -  was fluent and on his day I have always written that he is one of the best stroke-makers in the business. Mitchy looked as confident as he did in 2009 against South Africa. His batting was as monstrous and his shot selection screamed "almighty confidence". I use the word confidence specifically and regularly regarding Mitchell Johnson given that is what drives the man. Some players can fight through self-doubt and still perform well. Mitch is either broken when low on confidence or the best in the world when he's high on it! Test cricket is harsh and limits his gap between his best performances and most disastrous ones. This series is the biggest for him.

Mitchell added 64 runs to our score, with 6 fours and 2 sixes before becoming Broad's fifth wicket. It was sad to see Mitch depart but he put runs on the board in a resilient partnership with Brad Haddin. Invaluable is the word to use now.

At one stage we were fretting at 6-132 before recovering to 246 runs. 114 runs added for the seventh wicket and it may be the most important runs for us in the series come a few weeks time. As a result we are just 27 runs away from 300 which is a mighty fine place to be after the turmoil upon us early in the day.

Brad Haddin is just 22 runs away from a century, one which will be respected by all Australian cricket supporters and be one of the best for him. However, this is jumping the gun and thinking too far ahead. I am watching this series for what it is, no expectations and just backing my team one hundred percent. Fortunately Ryan Harris was able to survive out there with Hads till stumps, playing some beautiful shots of his own.

Sure, it was not a good day for us but we were not bowled out on the first day, we still have two wickets in hand, still have a man in form at the crease and the track is still good for batting. Our bowling attack is our strength and if we can get beyond the 300 run mark it is something for our bowlers to defend. If Mitchell Johnson is also batting this way and had reminders today of 2009, perhaps, just maybe, by some great measure he will bowl like he did against South Africa in 2009!

Tough day for us but there's the positives and the realities. It's only day one of the series. If the guys have some immense fight in them and total belief we can get back into this series, given it was not an ideal start - far from it.

Come on Australia, come on the Baggy Greens!

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