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Monday, November 25, 2013

Emotions Flow Over as Aussies Take 1-0 Lead

In a conclusion that few could possibly have predicted, Australia grabbed a 1-0 lead in the Ashes series after a thumping 381 run victory in the 1st Test, amid fierce and ugly scenes as passion and invective flowed over in the dying stages of the match, something that will no doubt inflame the remainder of the summer.

It was a day that ebbed and flowed for both sides, with England needing to bat for two days with eight wickets in hand and hope for some help from the Brisbane weather if they were to stave off defeat. Australia on the other hand had to show patience, and believe in themselves and the fact that the victory target for England was impossible, as was the chance of batting 180 overs for a draw. No doubt a few results in recent history may have been playing on their minds, such as Perth in 2008 against South Africa or even Adelaide 12 months ago against the same opponents. But this was a different scenario, and a different team. This time they had pure motivation.

England started their job well on a wicket that was offering very little for the bowlers. Three years ago the pitch had flattened into a road on days four and five as England piled on 1/517. Though the wicket here was not deteriorating, it was certainly not going to be as good as that wicket had been. Cook and Pietersen started confidently, both in survival mode. The first hour passed with few demons, and it was perhaps only the drinks break that did for Pietersen, who soon after slapped Johnson straight to fine leg. It was a lack of concentration and perhaps a tad lazy, but his wicket at this point revitalised the crowd and the Australians.
Ian Bell came to the crease, and he and Cook saw the team to lunch, and beyond. The bowling was tight and giving little away, and both batsmen were in the zone to preserve their wickets to the best of their ability. It was riveting Test cricket, the bowlers trying to prise an opening, the batsmen refusing to allow it. Both teams knew that one further wicket opened the lower order up, to batsmen who were less capable of performing the role the team needed. And so it was, until three overs before drinks in the second session, when Siddle sent down a pearler to Bell that jumped off a good length and moved away a fraction off the pitch, which he could only edge to Haddin. It had taken three hours to prise out those two top order wickets, but Australia had the opening they had been striving for.

It was rain England now looked, for, and it arrived just three overs, and when it came it looked as though the rest of the day could be lost. But the sun came out, and the ground staff worked a minor miracle, so that only 90 minutes later, having also taken the tea break, the players returned to the field, much to England's chagrin. And the break destroyed them again, ending their hopes in a five over spell when they lost four wickets for nine runs. Just six balls after resumption, Cook fell to a shot that was as much part of the break in concentration than the delivery. Attempting to cut a Lyon short delivery so soon after the break brought about his downfall - a dismissal that must have cut him deeply - and the final resistance had been removed. Prior was again undone by Lyon around the corner. Then Broad and Swann were both found out by the aggression, pace and bounce of a resurgent Mitchell Johnson, who left no doubt about his intentions by continuing to bowl short and fast from around the wicket. When a second storm hit, England was all but finished at 8/160.
Another 40 minutes passed, but players again returned to the field, and with emotions running high it was a volatile conclusion to the match. Tremlett has done well to hold back the barrage of fast short pitched bowling he had received, but was finally undone by Ryan Harris who produced a pop up catch for short leg George Bailey to end his innings. The arrival of Jimmy Anderson to the crease brought everything to head. No doubt he received a lot of advice from many of the Australians at this time. Shane Watson and Dave Warner are not adverse to this. there also seemed to be a very colourful exchange between Anderson and a smiling George Bailey under the helmet. Then Michael Clarke got involved - twice, very publicly and obviously. It was amazing stuff - somewhat ugly to watch and one wonders whether it was all necessary. There is little doubt Anderson loves to dish it out when he is bowling, and over the course of the last three series he has been the winner on all occasions. No doubt in England he was very happy to remind the Australians of the scoreboard. However, it appears from this distance that as much as he likes to dish it out, he is quite reticent about getting it back, and it really appears that he carried on a little bit too much yesterday afternoon. That is not to say that Watson and Warner have been any less like this in the past. Watson was very obviously given a verbal send off in both innings in Brisbane by the English, and Warner copped plenty of flack in England for deeds that he brought on himself. I'm not sure either had much right to go over the top given their background. It is also obvious that Anderson and Clarke do not like each other, and theirs has been a long-running stoush. Anderson gave Clarke plenty when bowling to him in Australia's second innings. One can only assume that Clarke was pointing out to him at centre wicket yesterday that if he is going to give it, he should learn to take it in return. Whatever the rights and wrongs of it all, from a supporter's point of view, I think it looked ugly, and was so unnecessary given the fact that, against all the odds, Australia was about to win the first Test. Few people in the exchanges will have any excuses should the roles reverse in the coming weeks.

Mitchell Johnson must be ecstatic, taking five wickets in the second innings, and nine for the match, as well as scoring 60 and 39 not out. He bowled aggressively and with great pace, something he should have done a lot more of in the past. Perhaps it is his final realisation, and he can finish off his career now in a style more worthy of some of his bowling in the past. And he should keep his moustache, it just adds to his aggressive appearance. His two partnerships with Brad Haddin, the innings-saver in the first innings, and the one that put England out of the match in the second, were both fantastic.
Haddin himself was magnificent. His 94 in the first innings was arguably his most vital and magnificent in his Test career. He then added 53 in the second when quick runs were needed. He took five catches behind the stumps, was energetic, and had a calming influence upon the team the whole way through the Test match.

Australia now lead 1-0, but the series has only just begun. The next four Tests come in a five week period, meaning no crocks can be afforded. Despite the size of the victory by Australia, both sides still have their positives and negatives. Clarke and Warner can be happy, but the other four top order bats for Australia still need to find runs if they are to contribute to the series. The Australians may believe they have found the weaknesses in England's batting, but weaknesses can be overturned with determination - Clarke's 'perceived' problem with the short ball is testament to this. Ten days is a long time in Test cricket, and when the teams reappear at Adelaide Oval, everything starts from square one again. In regards to the Ashes, England only have to draw this series to retain the urn, and Australia must win. It's great to have a 1-0 lead, but Adelaide will have its own story to tell in regards to this series' final outcome.

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