Australia hold a 1-0 advantage, as predicted by most, though not entirely in the fashion predicted.
Only when the Gabba pitch became more Gabba-like did the home team start to look more obviously superior.
Australia’s infamous unbeaten run at the Gabba is extended and I was reminded of the 1990-91 series when we as an unfancied England team (there is of course no such thing as a fancied England team in Aus unless we actually defy the hype and the opposition and go on to win!) found ourselves with a lead of 42 after two low-scoring opening innings before the whole thing unravelled right there in front of us and then as now it ended in a home victory by 10 wickets.
The outstanding difference between then and now is that there was no singular match-turning innings such as that by Steve Smith. In the aftermath, there is already wailing and gnashing of teeth about England’s tactics to the imperious Australian captain.
Root tried most things, indeed almost more than most things, and the simple truth is that Smith showed infinite patience, determination and skill in making his slowest yet potentially most valuable ever test hundred. If someone plays that well then whatever you do as captain is just possibly not going to be enough.
I remember watching from the commentary box when he first played against England and it was rather unfairly suggested that his main task was apparently to crack a few gags in the rooms and keep his team’s spirits up.
Well, if anything raises a team’s spirits it’s the captain leading from the front and making match-winning hundreds, and the Aussie team will be both all smiles now and full of respect for his abilities.
As will England, who will not be offering “Tell us a joke, Smithy” as their opening gambit anymore!
We nicknamed him “Simon Smith” after “Simon Smith and his Amazing Dancing Bear” (Alan Price, 1967, for those wondering what on earth I’m on about now). We thought his footwork then was akin to a cricketing version of “Dad Dancing” and were hardly forecasting a great future.
How very wrong we were and I apologise now for such poor judgement! To be fair, it still doesn’t look pretty but what he does is incredibly effective and even I would be tempted to swap all those plaudits for being “easy on the eye” for the sheer productiveness at the crease of a man who will now undoubtedly become one of the greats.
Before this Test I was most interested to see how the Ashes “unknowns” would fare. It was good to see all three of England’s Ashes virgins – Stoneman, Vince and Malan – showing the right sort of skill and character to each make half-centuries in the first innings, especially as the runs we hoped and expected from Cook and Root failed to materialise.
In hindsight, the key quality missing from England’s batsmen in both innings was longevity and how one wishes that Vince’s ill-judged attempt at a single cut him short in the first innings.
However, nice it is to be making your first Test fifty in the first innings of an Ashes series, it could have been so much more important for both his own sense of wellbeing and his team’s position if he had carried on in the same vein to a hundred and beyond.
Whatever “positives” (how I hate it how one always looks for them in defeat!) England have gained from those three, they will be worried about the way both innings collapsed in the face of hardly unexpected aggression from Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins.
A lot of England’s runs in the last couple of years have come from the middle-order powerhouse down but without Stokes the order has had to change and with it the balance. I think Bairstow should still be higher and that Moeen, for all his qualities (easy on the eye!) fares better in organising the tail.
Unless the Bristol & Avon Police come to a decision on Stokes quickly and he is allowed to be parachuted in to this tour (and there is, I jest, suspicion that those in charge of the case are actually under cover Aussies) the England team will have to make do with the current balance and make sure they find a way of getting more runs on the board.
With the Adelaide day-night Test next, England will be clinging to the hope that conditions might just suit them better when movement rather than out and out pace could come to the fore. Even if it helps them with the ball, they will still need runs on the board too.
Four years ago we looked at Adelaide as England’s chance to get back into the series after a much more debilitating defeat in Brisbane than this one. They blew it then and they cannot afford to blow it again this time.
2017-18 International Fixtures
Magellan Ashes Series
Australia Test squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird, Chadd Sayers.
England Test squad: Joe Root (c), James Anderson (vc), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Mason Crane, Tom Curran, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Chris Woakes.
First Test Australia won by 10 wickets. Scorecard
Second Test Adelaide Oval, December 2-6 (Day-Night). Tickets
Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Tickets
Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Tickets
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Tickets
Gillette ODI Series v England
First ODI MCG, January 14. Tickets
Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Tickets
Fifth ODI Perth Stadium, January 28. Tickets
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Tickets
Gillette T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Tickets
Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Tickets
Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Tickets
Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 14
Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21