By Michael Stafford-Jones

  • Australian openers David Warner and Cameron Bancroft chase target of 170 with ease
  • England collapse from 246-4 to 302 all out in the first innings and from 155-5 to 195 all out in the second
  • Steve Smith’s outstanding unbeaten 141 rescues Australia after they slip to 76-4 in their first innings.
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA – Steve Smith’s superb 141 and two batting collapses from England set up a comfortable 10-wicket win for Australia in the First Test of Ashes 2017/18.

 

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A tame end to a promising match

England succumbed to the inevitable just 16 overs into Day Five of the first Ashes Test as Australian openers David Warner and Cameron Bancroft knocked off the remaining 56 runs needed to complete a ten-wicket win for the hosts.

It was a disappointing end to a match that was closely-fought right up until the moment when Dawid Malan was dismissed for just four on the fourth morning. When Nathan Lyon got a ball to pitch on the stumps to draw England’s number five into a shot, then turn just enough to take the edge of his bat and travel into the safe hands of Steve Smith at first slip, the task facing the tourists suddenly seemed much too difficult.

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That wicket dropped England deep into trouble at 74/4 in their second innings, with a lead of just 48. And every Three Lions fan must have known it was all over shortly afterwards when Joe Root was trapped lbw by Josh Hazlewood immediately after reaching fifty. Moeen Ali and Jonny Bairstow put together a partnership of 42 that saved England from a really low total, but it never looked likely to change the result.

Moeen’s dismissal was perhaps a touch unlucky as he was given out stumped off the bowling of Lyon when his foot was right on the poorly-painted crease line. If the line had been drawn more accurately by the groundsman, might part of his foot have been behind it? The social media chatter about the issue made no difference, of course, and the all-rounder’s dismissal brought Chris Woakes to the crease at 155/6.

Woakes and Bairstow added thirty more runs between them before the Warwickshire bowler fended a short ball from Mitchell Starc straight into the hands of Smith at second slip. And then, in Starc’s next over, the Yorkshireman followed Woakes back to the pavilion after getting out in very disappointing fashion. Australia put Peter Handscomb at third man specifically for the ramp shot from Bairstow and the English batsman fell into the trap as though following a script.

Nine balls later, Starc had dismissed Broad, Pat Cummins had removed Jake Ball and the innings was over. England were all out for 195, leaving Australia a very gettable target of 170 to win. In the end, it was much easier than that, as Warner and Bancroft strolled to 114/0 at the close, then returned the next morning to finish the job.

 

England waste encouraging start by collapsing

Day One of the Test went really well for England. After losing Cook to Starc in the third over, Ashes newbies Mark Stoneman and James Vince batted superbly during a partnership of 125 that reduced The Gabba to a state of near-silence.

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Vince batted beautifully, unfurling a succession of gorgeous cover drives that recalled the likes of Michael Vaughan and Ian Bell at their respective peaks. It was the kind of classy performance that deserved a century, but unfortunately for the Hampshire batsman, excellent technique is not the only thing required to reach such a milestone. To get to three figures, a batsman must concentrate at all times, and make good decisions. When Vince chose to take on Lyon’s arm after push the ball into the covers, he made a fatal mistake and his excellent innings was over. His 83 was more than enough to mute his critics, but a score over 100 might have been match-winning for his country.

Stoneman’s patiently-compiled knock of 53 was far less aesthetically-pleasing, but no less important, and the opener certainly looks to have the required toughness to succeed in Australia. Happily for England, their other batsman without previous Ashes experience – Malan – also scored fifty. Unfortunately, the Middlesex man’s departure was the signal for the first of two collapses in the match that cost England.

Having expertly executed a couple of pull shots, Malan got greedy and attempted to hit another against a head-high ball from Starc and slapped it straight to Shaun Marsh at mid-wicket. As he walked back to the dressing room, England were still looking good at 246/5. Not for long. In the next over, Moeen padded up to a straight one from Lyon and was confirmed to be out after reviewing the umpire’s decision. Then Woakes closed his eyes and swung his bat aimlessly at a ball from Lyon that spun into the stumps to leave England tottering at 250/7.

And that could have been it for the tourists without some useful boundaries from Broad and Ball that edged their score past 300. It was scant consolation, as they needed at least 50 more.

 

Smith shows the way

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Despite England’s collapses, they might still have won the match if not for Smith. The Australian captain showed everyone exactly why he is the number one batsman in the ICC rankings with a brilliant unbeaten 141.

He came in at 30-2, watched from an end as his team slipped to 76-4, then set about rebuilding the innings with the help of Marsh. The Australian made painfully slow progress, accruing just 99 runs in the 43 overs they were together, but it was such a pivotal stand in the context of the match. Had Marsh faltered on his recall to the team, especially after critics lambasted his selection, even Smith’s heroics may not have been enough to save Australia.

But the 34-year-old stood up to the challenge and supported his captain through the host’s most difficult period of the match. Marsh’s dismissal at the hands of Broad did not change Smith’s approach. The Australian captain continued his patient progress, determined not to give England even so much as a sniff of getting him out, and he received more good support from Tim Paine and Cummins as he guided his team to a first-innings lead of 26.

And that was what was most impressive about Smith’s innings: the lack of chances. Because of his supreme concentration and fantastic marshalling of his unorthodox technique, England never looked like getting him out. It was unquestionably a match-winning contribution, but it was also a salvage job of the highest order. If you take his 141 out of Australia’s total of 328, suddenly the hosts look to be heading for a heavy defeat. Luckily for the Baggy Greens, their captain was determined to ensure that did not happen. What a performance.

 

The Second Test in Ashes 2017/18 begins in Adelaide at 3.30am on Thursday 2nd December.

 

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