Cummins the Captain Australia as England floored in Ashes opening day

  • New home skipper grabs five wickets as pacers skittle out England for 147 on the first day of the iconic series at The Gabba.
Cummins the Captain Australia as England floored in Ashes opening day(REUTERS)
Cummins the Captain Australia as England floored in Ashes opening day(REUTERS)
Published on Dec 08, 2021 09:21 PM IST
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By, New Delhi

Just in case you did not wholeheartedly appreciate the magnitude of India’s series-winning exploits against Australia at the Gabba in January, the proceedings on the first day of the Ashes on Wednesday morning merit a compulsory watch. It will lend more perspective on the heights India—a considerably weakened India one might add—scaled during a memorable Australian summer as well as just how daunting the hosts can be at the ‘Gabbatoir’, as the locals endearingly call their previously impregnable citadel in Brisbane.

It was Australia’s first loss at the venue since November 1988 when West Indies were in their pomp and England’s batting capitulation led to a torrent of tweets recalling India’s, and Cheteshwar Pujara’s, heroic effort that sealed an incredible comeback series win.

 

Much to England’s misery on a muggy Wednesday morning in Brisbane though, the Aussies were back doing what they do best: bullying wary opponents at the Gabba. It took all of 50.1 overs and two sessions for England to be bundled out for 147, a disastrous outcome after Joe Root chose to bat. Pat Cummins could not have ushered in a new era as Australia Test captain on a more promising note: figures of 5/38 ensuring that his genial grin gets even wider.

 

It was a tricky decision at the toss alright, Root having to weigh up the benefit of putting up a total on the board against the generous sprinkling of grass on the surface and the conducive atmospheric conditions.

Even England’s shaky batting in home Tests this year didn’t predict a wretched display that would recall the hysterically bad opening days they have had at the Gabba over the years. In this century, two instances come to mind. In 2002, skipper Nasser Hussain chose to field, hoping his bowlers would exploit whatever early assistance the pitch could offer. By the end of Day 1, Australia had racked up 386/2, going on to win the series 4-1. Four years later, the duel was an epic mismatch from the moment Steve Harmison opened with a delivery so wide it went to skipper Andrew Flintoff at second slip. He was a pale shadow of the focused 2005 Ashes hero at home as England were routed 5-0.

In stark contrast, viewers tuning into the action on Wednesday morning were greeted by the ball disturbing the stumps first up. And that first ball was arguably more critical for Australia than anything that followed during a day interrupted by rain. For, the bowler delivering the opening breakthrough was Mitchell Starc. There was Cummins’ dream start as leader—he took his first five-wicket haul in the Ashes—and Josh Hazlewood’s sustained excellence, but their dominance was entirely along expected lines.

Starc, though, had been blowing hot and cold for some time. His inconsistency with the ball at home last season was glaring, so much so that India seemed quietly pleased whenever the left-arm pacer was given the red Kookaburra. The tepid run of form had even cast doubts over his place in the side leading up to the Ashes. He set the tone straightaway, with a fullish delivery on leg stump aided by a hint of swing away from the left-handed Rory Burns. The opener shuffled across his stumps to perhaps cover the swing but ended up misreading the line to find his leg stump knocked back. Whether it was a leg-stump half-volley—as Shane Warne said—or a searing yorker, Starc won’t care.

And once Starc was backing up his mates in the pace troika, England were all but doomed. Hazlewood and Cummins seldom bowl a bad ball, their accuracy and control suffocating even the most free-flowing of batters. Unlike the Gabba Test against India in January, when the Australian attack was a weary bunch approaching the end of a long series, the England batters were contending with a recharged attack.

England’s helplessness was embodied by the dismissals of Root and Ben Stokes. Hazlewood delivered eight dot balls to Root, all asking questions, before sending him back off the ninth delivery. It was on an impeccable length, forcing the England captain to come forward, and took the outside edge due to the slight movement away.

Cummins’ execution against Stokes was equally precise. The length was in that arresting zone where Stokes was neither forward nor back, and the Gabba’s trademark bounce did the rest as the ball caught the splice of the all-rounder’s bat and fell into the hands of third slip.

Much before the attending fans could tuck into their lunch, England were four-down with their two best batters out. According to data from CricViz, the Australian seamers were operating in that nagging channel outside off 57% of the time in the opening 30 overs, the highest they have recorded since the Ashes at home four years ago.

“Pretty crazy... it’s all gone to plan so far. You’re always in the game on the morning of Day 1. The body felt decent. I’ve bowled better before and haven’t got as many rewards,” Cummins said.

Whether Australia capitalise on this start depends on what their batting unit—the weaker link—does. If they show even some of the form the bowlers did, Australia would have taken a decisive step towards reclaiming their fortress.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Vivek Krishnan is a sports journalist who enjoys covering cricket and football among other disciplines. He wanted to be a cricketer himself but has gladly settled for watching and writing on different sports.

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Thursday, January 27, 2022