This report was originally published after day one of the 2015 Trent Bridge Ashes Test.
If Australia’s costly collapse at Edgbaston a week ago could be explained away as one of those days when things don’t fall into place, then today’s surrender at Trent Bridge will be viewed as a day when they fell by the wayside.
The sort of day that reshapes teams.
That terminates careers.
Many words, most of them adjectives, have already tumbled out to document one of Test cricket’s more extraordinary mornings when, in reality, Australia’s humiliation is a story that really only requires numbers for its grisly retelling.
The 60 which is Australia’s second-lowest completed innings total in more than 100 years (the lowest – 47 – came in Cape Town almost four years ago with a team that included seven members of the current Ashes touring party).
The 111 balls – a paltry 18.3 overs - that the 11 best Test cricketers at Australia’s disposal were able to negotiate, the fewest that a national team has managed in the first innings of a Test match since they were first played in 1877.
Quick Single: England, Broad return to scene of Ashes triumph
The 8-15 that Stuart Broad captured in 9.3 mesmeric overs that was the most destructive return against Australia in a Test match for more than 30 years.
The 124 unbeaten runs that England’s best batsman Joe Root found himself (64 runs ahead of Australia’s woeful score at day’s end), which lifted his team to a stumps lead of 214 with another five players still to come and four days to bat.
It’s not unreasonable to suggest the Australians were in disarray well before that tragi-comic first half hour at Trent Bridge when top-order batsmen came and went in a flurry of hastily grabbed protective equipment, Velcro pad straps and bewildered looks.
The selectors’ decision to dispense with seam-bowling all-rounder Mitchell Marsh in favour of his specialist batsman brother Shaun arguably betrayed the lack of faith they held in the other batters at their disposal in light of the Edgbaston debacle.
The sight of skipper Michael Clarke’s name on the team sheet at number five, a spot below the one in which he had struggled so far in the series, was another admission that their totemic leader was also feeling the pinch.
The reduction of the bowling stocks by one hinted that the game plan was to load up the batting and put so many runs on the board that a fifth bowling option wouldn’t be needed.
Which explains why Clarke resorted to David Warner’s occasional medium pace in the final hour as Root – troubled by back soreness more so than any of Australia’s specialist bowlers – administered the ultimate humiliation by posting a match defining century.
And the fact that the Ashes holders took to the field with a tweaked XI for the third time this series suggested those in charge of selecting those personnel are not quite sure what the optimum team make-up and balance should be.
When Clarke lost the toss, was asked to bat and was then quizzed as to what his preferred option would have been had the coin landed his way, his response of “it doesn’t matter, whatever it is we do first we just have to do well” was as convincing as it was committal.
Whatever was the plan heading into a Test that loomed as crucial as any of Australia’s recent past given the state of the contest, the prize on the line and the expectations – of players and fans – prior to the first ball being delivered, it was shredded after 10 minutes.
And replaced with a post-it note bearing one word.
As brilliantly as Broad shouldered the burden of his long-time new ball partner Jimmy Anderson’s absence through injury, an occurrence that was supposed to shift the series inexorably in Australia’s favour, and bowled like a magician it’s tough to come up with another description of the tourists’ innings.
Like bathers taking to the English surf on a winter’s day, the Australians shuffled out of their changing hut under slate grey skies, walked uncertainly and without conviction, lingered briefly while ascertaining the temperature was not to their liking, then went discontentedly back.
Unhappy and unenlightened for the experience.
Openers Chris Rogers (who pocketed the first duck of a Test career that now seems certain to end in defeat) and Warner could tender reasonable defence to the hearing on grounds they were simply defeated by exceptional bowling.
Rogers, like Adam Gilchrist on the equally unsuccessful tour of 2005, has been opened up by Broad operating around the wicket and the fact that he landed one in precisely the spot required with his third delivery of the day was – with the wisdom of retrospect – a powerful portent.
Having watched Rogers and Steve Smith – now looking a shadow of the world’s best Test batsman after three consecutive single-figure scores – perish within a breathtaking first over, Warner knew batting was going to be tough while the cloud remained and 8mm of grass on the pitch stayed lively.
But he could not have hatched a plan to cope with the third ball he faced from Broad’s new new-ball partner Mark Wood that swung and jagged back with such pace and bounce that in other circumstances Warner might have been pleased to feather an inside edge on it.
Even then, the inadequacies that Broad so surgically and relentlessly exposed in the batting credentials of number one through to 11 were largely the product of technical deficiency, cluttered thinking and an abject failure to learn from the similar if not quite so sizeable disaster of a week ago.
Rogers, Smith, Marsh (whose seventh duck of his 26-innings career crowned a forgettable return to Test cricket) and Adam Voges all provided catching practice for England’s hyper-vigilant slips cordon by pushing hard at the ball, bat out in front of body.
Voges might want to attribute another low score to Ben Stokes’s freakish one-handed catch hurling himself towards what would have been sixth slip, but it’s doubtful he would have hung around for much longer, either because he received another similar ball or ran out of batting partners.
As those with experience on English pitches, as that quartet surely has, and who had seen an innings wound up inside 40 overs on a similar surface a week ago would be expected to know, that is a recipe for disaster when the ball is seaming or swinging.
Doubly dangerous when it’s doing both.
Clarke’s, by contrast, was an ill-advised moment of madness, pure and simple.
Weeks of remorseless scrutiny, endless questioning, gnawing frustration and nagging self-doubt that had flowed from the leaden footwork and obvious discomfort he’s shown at the crease collided when – with wickets crashing around him and the need for another of those captain’s innings at its height – Broad pitched a rare loose ball.
In fact, one of only 10 deliveries he landed in one of the great bowling spells the Test game has seen that could be characterised as marginally wide of the mark he was hitting with awe-inspiring regularity.
Full and wide, Clarke saw it as the pressure release he’d been searching for over recent troubled weeks, a chance to insert himself into a game that his team had become culpable bystanders to and even land the one blow of authority that had been so noticeably absent for the previous half hour.
That his reaching, almost desperate swish at the ball that tailed away and into the hands of a jubilant Alastair Cook via the bottom edge of Clarke’s bat served as a thumbnail sketch of a forgettable day, an emblematic image of a failed tour and perhaps a fading sketch of a career in decline.
Certainly what happened either side of Clarke’s unconvincing knock – that left his team at a scarcely believable 6-29 when it ended – was the sort of stuff that will make selectors take note, if they have not used all their spare writing paper penning urgent requests for new squad members.
Peter Nevill, the understudy installed into Brad Haddin’s role as wicketkeeper because his mentor was deemed unable to adequately defend his stumps when batting, was clean bowled for the second time in three Test innings.
Unlike the first day horror show at Edgbaston, Nevill at least offered a stroke at today’s although the limp prod that left sufficient space for Steven Finn to spear the ball into the 29-year-old’s off stump was a shot in loose definition only.
That the last four batsmen were able to more than double Australia’s score would have been a stoic act of defiance if the first six wickets had not dropped for less than 30.
And the appearance of the sun pretty much from the time England began their innings 11 minutes prior to lunch on day one – that’s 11 minutes before lunch on day one – might have been viewed as a typically rough result on a day when some fortune was needed has the home team shown similar strife in handling the underfoot conditions.
But the fact that England’s batsmen offered but one catch to the slips cordon in the almost 60 overs they batted today, a flying edge from Cook (on 29) that eluded Smith’s outstretched right hand and Clarke’s half-hearted attempt to cover showed any demons in the pitch were tameable.
Of the England wickets that did fall, two (Ian Bell for one and Cook for 43) were to fast, late swinging yorkers from Mitchell Starc that would have troubled most batsmen on the most benign surface.
Jonny Bairstow gave up his vital hand of 74 in two and a half hours a manner as soft as it was anti-climactic, clipping a full delivery from Hazlewood into the lap of mid-wicket.
The ignominy of being the first of the 14 batsmen dismissed to that point to be caught in front of the wicket was mitigated by the knowledge he and Root had fashioned a fourth-wicket partnership of 173 from just 206 balls, putting paid to any argument about the Trent Bridge pitch.
The other to fall, Adam Lyth, did what he’s done all series to date and nicked off for a score part way between negligible and useful.
But the sight of England’s most out-of-form batsman forced to tackle the new ball in conditions that most closely replicated those in which Australia were humbled managing a higher score than any member of the touring XI (sundries excepted) summed up a day that will long be remembered as one of Australia’s most lamentable.
And in terms of future directions, one of its most pivotal.