Sport

Ashes, first test: Excruciatingly exciting, agonisingly average

By Antoinette Muller 15 July 2013

It took just a little under five days, but England triumphed in the first Ashes Test by beating Australia at Trent Bridge. It was a marginal 14-run win which could so very easily have resulted in a win for the visitors. Entertaining cricket it was, but the overall quality left much to be desired. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

A kangaroo’s tail is its best defence, taking it forward when bouncing and walking, and the Aussies seemed to take leaf out of the kangaroo’s book during the first Ashes at Trent Bridge. They added 299 runs out of 576 on the tail end of two innings, providing much-needed impetus when the situation was looking dire.

But even the best defence wasn’t enough in the end, and England triumphed over Australia with a thrilling 14-run margin just after lunch on the fifth day at Trent Bridge – in a Test that combined dubious umpiring, a fairytale debut and flashes of individual brilliance.

As a whole, though, it was a display of average cricket by two flawd teams.

On a flattish pitch, on the first day, against a rookie attack, England succumbed to 215 all out. In their response, Australia managed 280, thanks largely to a teenager named Ashton Agar. That effort slipped them into the lead, but neither side should have been in such a dreadful position in the first place.

That the game managed to edge into the fifth day is surprising in itself. That is a sign of just how many weak links there are in both teams. Australia resumed the final day on 164-6, having lost five wickets for 53 runs in the space of 26 overs. A brittle batting order, laced with inconsistency, was the tourists’ biggest flaw. There will be much talk about Stuart Broad’s lack of sportsmanship and the poor umpiring that went with it, but that is not where the game was lost.

The contest was dominated by what ifs, but the only real question the Australians should be asking is: what if they actually managed a consistently coherent effort with the bat?

England’s bowlers were there for the taking. James Anderson was outstanding and Graeme Swann had his moments, but none of the other bowlers ever really looked incredibly threatening. While Steven Finn certainly has the pace to be a thorn in any team’s side, he hasn’t quite figured out how to use that yet. Waiting in the wings are Tim Bresnan and Graham Onions, but it’s hard to see anyone of the current crop of English bowlers step up and really lead the attack, should Anderson get injured. It’s almost as if knowing he’s always there has led to complacency from the rest of the attack.

Despite that, Australia’s efforts with the bat were woeful. Ed Cowan and Phil Hughes are both weak links. Cowan could very well be dropped in favour of the more attacking David Warner, who was due to depart for an A team tour to repent for his walkabout sins. Hughes was as timid as he was resilient in the first innings. His approach to playing spin on a mildly deteriorating wicket reminded one rather of a new-born giraffe on rollerskates.

There was some solace for the Australians, though. Shane Watson managed to contribute at the top of the order in the first innings and played a significant part with the ball in restricting the scoring rate. Brad Haddin went back to his old self with a valiant effort on the final day, which took Australia close to a win.

England’s batting, equally, looked shaky at times. Jonny Bairstow’s technique in closing the face of the bat cost him in both innings. Ian Bell remedied his flawed technique of opening the face pretty quickly and came back with a bang in the second innings when he scored a gritty 109 off 267. On paper, England’s batting is far better than Australia’s, but that might just be a few cobwebs. The visitors, of course, have not played a Test match since March this year, and that ended in a 4-0 defeat. England had the luxury of playing New Zealand just two months ago.

The theory that Australia would be walkovers has surely now been blown out of the water. They certainly have their shortcomings, but still. The first Test might not have been a good advert for good quality cricket, but it certainly was entertaining. It leaves just one question: how on earth will the rest of the series live up to that? DM

Result summary

England 215 (Siddle 5-50) and 375 (Bell 109, Broad 65, Pietersen 64, Cook 50) beat Australia 280 (Agar 98, Hughes 81*, Smith 53, Anderson 5-85) and 296 (Haddin 71, Rogers 52, Anderson 5-73) by 14 runs

Photo: England’s James Anderson (C) celebrates beating Australia with team mates during the last day of the first Ashes cricket test match at Trent Bridge cricket ground in Nottingham, central England, July 14, 2013. REUTERS/Darren Staples

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