The first day of the 2017-2018 Ashes series at the Gabba did not disappoint as England shaded the honours with a gritty batting display. For all of the trash talking and war of words, both sets of players knew that it was now about their actions on the field.
Mitchell Starc got Australia off to the perfect start by having Alistair Cook caught well at first slip by Peter Handscombe. Every England fan feared the worst with one of their key batsman back in the hutch but as befitting the way this tour has gone already, England quite quietly went about their business by blunting the fearsome pace trio of Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins.
Crucially from an England perspective, two of the three most under pressure players all came of age at the Gabba. Mark Stoneman and James Vince played with admirable patience to get England’s innings back on track. There is a possible third in the shape of Dawid Malan, who has got himself in and will look forward to building on his start tomorrow morning.
Friday becomes a very significant day for this England team as they have worked incredibly hard to get themselves into a potentially strong position in this all-important Test match. 196-4 means Australia are not out of it by any means but England have stunted the threat of the much-praised pace trio and actually struggled far more with the wily spinning fingers of Nathan Lyon.
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Talking of Lyon, there are sure to be many champagne moments during this series and his spectacular run out of Vince was a significant moment.
England’s batters deserve much credit for their application and determination not to give their wickets away. So often in the northern summer we have seen rash shots and cheap wickets but only James Vince can look back and be frustrated with the manner of his dismissal. That said, 83 is a hugely encouraging performance by Vince and as he starts to believe in himself more on the Test stage. A Test match hundred is surely not far away.
Both captains had their problems with Joe Root looking distinctly uncomfortable at the crease particularly when dealing with Nathan Lyon before he got a decent one from Cummins. Steve Smith would have hoped for more from Josh Hazelwood in particular and with so much banking on the pace attack, it was Nathan Lyon who posed the biggest threat to the English batsmen. This is something not many people would have thought at the start of the day.
The match is delightfully poised going into the second day. From an England viewpoint, if Malan and Moeen Ali can get through the first hour then they will have a platform to push for 400. They will have the added advantage of a tiring pace attack, a softer pitch and a faster scoring rate with the players to come. For Australia, they must pluck out one of these two batsmen in the first few overs whilst the bowlers are fresh. With the threat of Mitchell Starc’s inswinging yorkers to come, they will then feel that the England tail is there for the taking.
All to play for and if day one is anything to go by, we are in for a cracking series.