Australia has come out on top of the first Ashes test of the 2017/18, winning by 10 wickets. The match was wrapped up early on the 5th morning as Cameron Bancroft hit the winning runs down the ground to remain not out on 82 along with David Warner on 87.
The Final result would suggest an easy win for the home side, but the reality was much more complicated. For the entirety of the first 2 days England seemed to have the upper hand, and if it weren’t for a dominant 4th-day bowling display and a Steve Smith master class, the result could have been very different.
Smith Displayed an incredible patience and an aptitude for test cricket that has perhaps never been witnessed before. He finished with an unbeaten 141 in the final session of day 3 taking Australia to 328 and a lead of 26. Late on the 2nd day, Australia seemed to be in trouble at 4 for 76, but a staunch partnership between Smith and Shaun Marsh (51) dragged Australia back to a level playing field.
After Marsh fell on the 3rd morning, Paine and Starc were quick to follow him back to the dressing room, and England were looking at going into their 2nd dig with a moderate lead and high confidence. They had bowled with great discipline and had often beat the outside edge. I must admit I was worried; I had not expected this. If it wasn’t for a more than handy 42 from Pat Cummins, Smith might never have had the chance to reach his century.
Unfortunately for the English bowlers, Smith did reach his century and proved himself to be the best test batsman in the world beyond any reasonable doubt. His patience, shot selection, and test match guise was perhaps the best he has shown in his career so far. He gave away no chances and never looked troubled by England’s short ball tactics. He showed trust in his tail end partners and gave them the confidence they needed to support him adequately. In the end, incredibly, Australia went into the 2nd innings with a 26 run lead.
Some questions do need to be asked of the English bowlers, Jake Ball and Moeen Ali were not up to their usual standards and Jimmy Anderson was perhaps hampered by a slight shoulder discomfort, but England will and should be very disappointed by how the innings ended up.
England went into their 2nd dig disheartened and a little bit behind in the match. By the end of the 3rd day, they would be further behind as Hazlewood took the wickets of Cook and Vince by stumps leaving England 2 wickets down with a slender 7 run lead.
The visitors started the 4th day with positivity as they looked to drag themselves back into the Game. Both Root and Stoneman played a number of beautiful shots as the Australian fast bowlers struggled for consistency and intensity. Enter Nathan Lyon, Australia’s greatest ever off-spinner took the wickets of Stoneman and Malan in quick succession; both caught Smith at slip.
England now needed Root to stand up and be counted, and he did for a short while before Hazlewood trapped him LBW for his 3rd of the innings. England were in serious trouble, Ali and Bairstow were all that stood in the way. For a while, it looked like they were digging their way out of trouble before a Sharp Piece of Keeping by Tim Paine had Ali stumped out of nowhere for 40. From then on England Crumbled and lost their last 5 wickets for 40 runs. Australia had just 170 runs to get for a 1-0 lead in the series.
England needed to bowl incredibly well to stop what was perhaps inevitable, and for a good 8-10 overs, they did. Anderson and Broad bowled tight lines and gave nothing away, beating the outside edge numerous times and having a handful of hopeful LBW shouts. But without picking up a wicket, their heads began to fall, and Australia’s run rate began to increase. Warner resumed his normal service, attacking the short and full ball and looking to force England’s hand. Bancroft, in contrast, batted with maturity and imposed himself brilliantly, he seems to have the potential of a very intimidating opening batter.
At the end of the 4th day, Australia just needed 53 to win with a full complement of wickets in hand. Day 5 would be nothing more than a formality.
The Big question that comes to mind is the aptitude of the England bowling attack. On the faster wickets with more bounce that are to come in the remaining 4 tests, will the England Bowlers have the work ethic and game plan to extract what is needed to win? We know that Australia just need to keep doing their thing and don’t necessarily have to change anything.
Likewise, the English Lower order is a massive concern. The Visitors lost 6 for 56 to end their 1st dig and 5 for 40 to finish their 2nd, and as an Australian, this felt Normal. If England want to win the Ashes, this cannot remain a normality. The England lower order led by Bairstow need to show a significant improvement in terms of their fight. Stuart Broad averages more than 20 in test cricket and his wicket seems to be nothing more than a formality.
It is not the Bowlers job to put runs on the board, but this first test is a perfect example of how vital the tail end is. Cummins scored 42 crucial runs in Australia’s first innings, and even though they scored modest totals, both Lyon and Hazlewood Stuck around for long enough to allow Steve Smith take the lead for Australia. The tail end is of vital importance.
So we go into the Adelaide test on Saturday. A venue that Australia has performed excellently over the past few years and is traditionally known as a great place to bat. However, with the pink ball, I feel the Australian bowling attack with providing too much for the English lower order to deal with. The only question is will the English do the same? They will take some confidence into the next test knowing that their top order can hold Australia at bay and if they bowl well they can take wickets at regular intervals, but will they have enough gas in the tank to take Australia down? Or will history repeat itself and the Adelaide oval provides yet another pacey wicket for a rampant Australian attack?