@willis_macp 5 minute read
Will Macpherson reports on Day 1 of the 2017/18 Ashes from The Gabba – a day of confounded expectations.
After all that build-up, it seemed certain that the opening day of the Ashes – an even, absorbing one – was always likely to be a little tetchy. But that was about all that went according to the script. The pitch, and the outfield, were slow. Australia’s quicks were only threatening in patches (with Pat Cummins the pick by a length but Nathan Lyon the best bowler), and James Vince looked the part, for plenty longer than a mere cameo. It even rained!
Lyon had to be at the heart of it. You cannot talk like that then disappear, and disappear Lyon did not. He bowled beautifully throughout, finding turn, drift and, most importantly, bounce to trouble England’s batsmen. He had Vince dropped badly, by Tim Paine behind the stumps on 68. It was, alas, the sort of catch those who have kept wicket in more than three games across the last two Shield seasons take. Paine missed.
Lyon’s bowling was luckless but he was not cowed. Tea passed and, despite being all over Vince, Steve Smith went back to his fast bowlers in search of a wicket, perhaps because Cummins found a beauty to nip back a touch and beat Mark Stoneman for pace, ending a stand of 125. Vince, purring again with a pair of boundaries in the first over after tea, pushed Josh Hazlewood into the off-side, and set off.
Perhaps he struck it better than he first realised, or perhaps he just backed himself. But the ball popped up perfectly for Lyon, swooping more swiftly to his right than he looks likely to do, and in one swift movement he threw the non-strikers down. Aleem Dar nodded, and so did Vince, knowing he was toast. It was the day’s first guttural Gabba roar, with another following when Joe Root was given out plumb lbw on review to Cummins.
“I don’t know how he doesn’t have six-fer,” Cummins reflected of the off-spinner. “I told him he should say something before every game.” Lyon’s bowling remained superb to the last; it is hard to imagine how he could have had a better day without taking a wicket or ending a single career. With this much spin on day one, he might just be the game’s key mover. He has an excellent record at The Gabba, and an excellent record this year. Surely no one expected that.
Vince was a delight, and provided the innings England had so long believed he had in him – even if another brainfart terminated it prematurely. He struggled with Lyon, but handled the seamers with some ease, cover-driving beautifully and leaving well too. He looked plenty tighter than before, scolding himself for every half-error, and correcting himself with the firmest defence.
Mark Stoneman slipped along unobtrusively in Vince’s wake, and they put on 125, which is 14 more than any partnership England managed in the whitewash of 2013/14. Stoneman drives beautifully down the ground, but looks far more comfortable when the seamers come over the wicket; Cummins came round and ran one straight through him for his first wicket on Australian soil, a mere six years after his debut. Like Vince, Stoneman’s patience was encouraging, and he recognised that with Alastair Cook falling in the game’s third over, occupation was more important than intimidation of the Australian attack.
That pair’s excellence was a fillip for England’s selectors, who had a better day than Australia’s. Paine’s drop was a howler, while there were times in the big stand when Steve Smith would have longed for another bowling option – namely Glenn Maxwell as Lyon wheeled away. The third batting newbie, Dawid Malan, who battled hard against Lyon then cashed in as Cummins flagged, has a chance to please James Whitaker and the gang even further. Malan and Moeen Ali ’s task is stiff – the new ball is just three deliveries old.