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Day one promises a brutal Ashes series

An eagerness to do too much resulted in most of the 22 offering way too little on a day of rampant anxiety.

Report by Telegraph.

Five days after a Lions series win and three nights after Andy Murray’s crushing of Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon the home crowd gathered beside the Trent wanting another fiesta. A marching band and Red Arrows fly past set the domineering tone.

The motley crew assembled by Australia included a 19 year old debutant spinner (Ashton Agar) and a 35-year-old short-sighted and colour blind opener (Chris Rogers) who last wore the Baggy Green 62 Tests or 5½ years ago.

But the master-underdog narrative wrapped round this series soon disintegrated. The peculiar intensity of day one of an Ashes battle played havoc with the script. Calmer heads counselled against premature English triumphalism.

Yet who could ignore the evidence of a coach being sacked two weeks before the series, a punch being thrown in Birmingham’s Walkabout bar or the inexperience and downright statistical mediocrity of some of Australia’s squad?

But what distinguishes the Ashes from other cricket marathons? The levelling force of history, the power of patriotism, the weight of individual defiance, as expressed by Peter Siddle, who even the Cricket Australia website describes as the “workhorse” of this attack.

“There were a lot of eager blokes, first Test, first day of an Ashes series,” Siddle agreed after taking five for 50. Joe Root, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell and Matt Prior all fell to the “Victorian Vegan”, as Siddle became known when he gave up meat (an unsustainable folly, according to fast-bowling carnivores of earlier vintages).

The first ball, so often treated as a flaming symbolic memo from the heavens, bounced high and wide from the fist of James Pattinson, who was intent in avenging the poor treatment of his brother, Darren – picked for one Test by England then dumped.
Not quite “a Harmie”, the label attached to all 11am spray balls in honour of Steve Harmison, Pattinson’s first effort was a neat illustration of what nerves can do to the protagonists.

If you like suicidal batting and short bursts of demonic bowling then this was the Test for you. The tap tap of feet on pavilion steps went on all day from Alastair Cook’s dismissal to the removal of Rogers to leave Australia 53 for four.

As a measure of the disorder, the two captains managed 13 runs between them – and all of those were Cook’s. The leg cutter from Jimmy Anderson that impaled Michael Clarke for nought was a comfortable winner of the Wednesday beauty contest.

“This Ashes series is going to be nasty, brutish and short if it carries on like this. Not for us, the voyeurs, but certainly for the players, who tossed away 14 wickets without any batsman reaching 50.”

The Ashes have probably never brought together two such angelic-faced captains, but their conflict will not repeat this pattern across five Tests stretching to The Oval in late August.

Cook was impetuous driving at Pattinson and gave Australia the scent of blood they needed. Pattinson and Mitchell Starc were wild at times but still flashed that edge of youthful menace their team will need in years to come.

Only five times since 1905 have 13 or more wickets fallen on the opening day of an Ashes series and too many of England’s were surrendered lightly.

Modern sports stars pretend to know how to objectify hype – to block it out – but few can say they have really mastered the art. The more they say “we have to treat it as just another Test match” the more the other side of the brain is gripped by panic.

“The occasion,” that wrecker of sleep and destroyer of equilibrium, still comes under the mind’s door like fog.

Example: Shane Watson, the opener, wafts at James Anderson in the first over. After a few meaty blows he drives at a ball from Finn and is caught in the slips by Root.

Example: for Finn’s very next delivery, Ed Cowan, who might like to think about hanging around a while to justify his selection, swipes at a bullet ball moving away from him and is caught by Graeme Swann.

This puts Finn on a hat-trick against Cowan’s captain, Clarke, who only just survives a snorter that flies past his off-stump.
So where were we? England, fragile with the bat, occasionally inspired with the ball.

Australia: promising with the ball, then reckless and/or exposed with the bat.

As the Trent Bridge scorers flopped down for a rest, Phil Hughes and Steve Smith were holding Australia’s innings together at 75 for four, and plans were being hatched for other entertainment on Sunday at the latest.

Each player will have closed his hotel door glad this first day had passed. The successes will have slept inspired and the underachievers will know the scrutiny will be merciless.

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