Investec Ashes 2013: Pressure makes wickets tumble on Day 1

Trott Cover Drive

Nerves on both sides contributed heavily with 14 wickets falling on a pitch not worthy of First Ashes Test.

English weather has been anything but English recently.  So when the first day of the first Ashes test arrived, it did not disappoint. Everything about the occasion was grand, everything except the pitch that is.

In the huddle Mark Butcher called it a dog of a wicket. "For the first match of an Ashes series it's not good enough" He remarked before going on to add.

"It's bang out of order, I don't care who you support, for a bowler of Steven Finn's pace or of James Pattinson's pace to run up, bang the ball in at a back of length and have it bounce three times to the keeper on day 1 of a test match. It's just not acceptable"

As to why the pitch was so lifeless. David Hopps offered an interesting insight.

"It's one of the questions in my mind tonight, why is the pitch like this? Is it because of hot weather? Is it because the groundsmen have got it wrong? Or,  is it actually because the pitch hasn't been watered for 8 days because England want a dry surface to aid reverse swing. If it is the sort of pitch England want, then I agree with Butch."

Regardless of whatever strategy England adopted off the field to gain advantage from being the home side, it was the nerves that won out on a day when 14 wickets fell.

Agar shock debut

Was this really a shock? When it comes to decent spinners Australia has dried up like the Sahara since Warne's retirement. Throwing in a youngster thus wasn't the worst decision. The youngster struggled under the pressure on a few occasions with a cluster of bad balls throughout the day. It's still very difficult to tell if there's any substance in Agar at this early stage. But you can't help but side with Cricket Australia on their optimism in youth.

Siddleicious

Starc and Pattinson were disheartened by the graveyard nature of the pitch earlier on, not Peter Siddle. Like a dog with bone, his sheer persistence earned him his 8th five wicket haul in Test cricket.

Poor Ashes debuts for England's young'uns

There is no room to hide in Test cricket, especially for young pretenders looking to make an impact. When Kevin Pietersen made his Ashes debut almost a decade ago, the skunk hairstyled youngster smashed Warne and McGrath all over the park. There were no "He's young, he'll get better with time" excuses needed. KP was born to play Test cricket.

day 1 was crying out for Root or Bairstow to play an innings of substance. That, against an attack that had no McGrath or Warne. Whether it was a gritty Trott-esque innings or a KP like swashbuckling one, it really didn't matter. Unfortunately for England they managed neither.

Root's ball when seen again on hawk eye wasn't as "right in the blockhole" as the Sky commentary team made out. A full length ball that shaped away slightly, yes, but Root was simply beaten for pace, and missed the ball by a considerable margin. The shot reminded me of Hick's dismissal against McDermott in 1995 (Watch here) Hick was arguably one of the best batting talents to grace English cricket, a quick glance at his first class record suggests so. But he wasn't good enough for Test cricket. Root has a lot of proving to do, or he could be heading down Hick lane.

Bairstow's dismissal didn't come as a surprise. His technique has been horribly exposed at Test level on numerous occasions and his inclusion raised a few eyebrows. Regardless of how long he spends at the crease or how "in" he is, the technique or lack of will continue to expose him until England find a better batsman. As Starc full straight delivery sent the off stump cartwheeling towards the slips, Bairstow's bat could be found reaching out to the square leg umpire. Such an obvious lack of ability to play with a straight bat, makes Phil Hughes look like Boycott.

Broad selection comes back to haunt England

There's little doubt the Aussies were targeting Broad with short hostile bowling from the moment he walked to the crease. England's decision to pick him despite doubts over his fitness provided the biggest hint they see him as indispensable. Given the deterioration of his pace and his ability with the bat in recent times, that decision appears lacking in logic. So, when Pattinson cracked the England fast bowler on the shoulder blade with a fierce bouncer, England fans held their breath.

Even if Broad is fit to bowl on Day 2, how much intensity is present in his bowling remains to be seen. But if he's not 100%, all the good work done by Anderson and Finn on day 1 could be undone. The temperatures are set to soar once more and England could find themselves with only 3 bowlers doing a long day shift. 

Jimmy's job not done yet

One of the reasons why Test cricket is like a drug for cricket fans is watching world class players producing incredible moments of brilliance. James Anderson's ball to Australian Captain Michael Clarke produced one such moment. It was a perfect delivery pitching on middle and seaming away to clip the off stump. Clarke is vulnerable earlier on to such deliveries as Dale Steyn demonstrated with a very similar delivery. early last year. It was a moment of magic, but it's not the first and it won't be the last. Anderson and Finn need to take a lot more wickets in this match if England are to turn the screw on Day 2.

Prediction for day 2

The batsmen are likely to have a dream day 2. The pitch is lifeless and England could be limping with three bowlers all day. If Anderson and Finn take early wickets and reduce the Australians to below 200, the England batsmen are likely to benefit and could compile a much larger 2nd innings total. Either way the bowlers are likely to struggle. Swann is likely to have a long shift lined up tomorrow if the quicks don't provide early breakthroughs. England fans won't mind. The more he bowls the more chance of him taking tickets. This could be Swann's chance to write his name into Ashes folklore. He himself will be hoping for that outcome more than England fans.

image: © SmithGreg