Australia did not need to consult the limitless chapters of cricket statistical records to understand the threat that England’s batting prodigy Joe Root posed at the start of this Ashes series.
While Root may be the nation’s once-in-a-generation batting talent for Gen Y in the way that Steve Smith is Australia’s and scored more Test centuries before turning 25 than countryman David Gower, his Ashes rivals had learned even earlier the damage he can inflict.
In just his second Ashes appearance two years ago, Root became the toast of Lord’s despite not looking of legal drinking age when he batted almost a day and half to score a match-defining 180, having been missed behind the wicket after he had scored eight.
So when the tourists made a dream start today to their campaign for the first series win in Britain for a decade, the arrival of Root at the crease with England in a lather an hour into the Ashes and the ball hooping about on the back of a stiff sou-westerly blowing hard off the Bristol Channel loomed as a pivotal moment.
From the day’s opening over, it was achingly obvious that the Cardiff pitch, rather like Cardiff Castle a few minutes’ walk from the ground along the River Taff and which originally began life as a Roman fort, had been built to last.
Certainly for all five days of a much-prized, money-spinning Test match for the Welsh capital if not quite 2,000 years, although from a fast bowler’s perspective it appeared equally foreboding.
But as Australia skipper Michael Clarke had noted upon losing the toss, his team’s best hope of setting up the match would arrive immediately, with low cloud cover, moisture in the air, a new ball and a wind made to order for the in-swing of new ball pair Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood.
When every move the Australians made in the first hour heralded a mini-victory with the removal of opener Adam Lyth (6), and then Alastair Cook (26) and Ian Bell (1) in consecutive overs, they roused themselves at the sight of Root in occupation so early in the match.
Having pinned the battling Bell on his stumps, Starc’s welcome to Root would have yielded the same result had the batsman not been in such good form as to get the thinnest of inner edges on the before it thumped his pad, and the next produced the chance for which the tourists were straining.
Not that it was immediately clear to all at the packed, low-rise SSE SWALEC Stadium other than the bowler.
His full, almost yorker-length delivery curled menacingly into the right-hander who stabbed down on the ball and, due to the slight deviation it took en route to Brad Haddin, nobody seemed quite sure if Root had squeezed the ball into the ground or edged a chance to the ‘keeper.
And when the ensuing super slo-mo, mega close-up replays showed it had indeed caught the outer edge of Root’s bat after it bounced and that Haddin’s reflex snatch that fleetingly saw the ball find the middle of his right gauntlet before it found the ground as he tried to clutch it to his chest, that Lord’s moment flashed through more than a few memories.
Watch: Haddin's drop proves costly
Such is Root’s current confidence and preparedness to take on any attack, he banished from the blemish from his mind far more quickly than the veteran Australia keeper was able to, and began to forge the day’s defining batting partnership with the previously out-of-sorts Gary Ballance.
Joe Root's amazing run of form continued on day one of The Ashes Test series as he racked up yet another century (Australia video only)
Not that the pair made light work of an Australia attack that was in equal parts probing and profligate.
But so devoid of the requisite signs of life was the Welsh wicket that when the fast bowlers did induce a false stroke, such as when Ballance edged Hazlewood to slip and Root lobbed a leading edge off Nathan Lyon, the ball dropped lifelessly and safely short of frustrated fielders.
After Haddin’s miss, the closest Australia came to prising out the 24-year-old who appeared to struggle with lower back soreness for much of his almost three-hour innings was a confident lbw shout that Steve Smith – standing in for Clarke who was momentarily off the field – opted to review.
That showed the ball had pitched outside leg stump and, by that stage, the cloud had blown through and the sunny breaks stretched longer and longer as the pair made the most of a track that offered only sporadic encouragement to bowlers and put together a fourth-wicket stand of more than 150.
Such was the lack of difficulty they seemed to experience after the overcast first session that Ballance’s dismissal, when he simply played down the wrong line to a straight ball Hazlewood angled in from around the wicket, came as more of a bolt from the blue than the late-afternoon sun.
But again Root was unfazed, save for the occasional round of painkillers for his back, and his century arrived on the back of typically elegant square drive that sped to the backward point boundary and further underscored his value to as the keystone of a wobbly top order.
By the time he was dismissed for 134 in the final session, stretching stiffly for another of the cover drives he had played so exquisitely for most of the day and edging low to slip in not dissimilar fashion to the second ball he faced, Root’s statistical presence had become even more intimidating.
Owner of the fastest century (in terms of balls faced - 118) on the first day of an Ashes series.
The highest score by an England batsman on day one of an Ashes campaign for more than a century.
And, with almost six months until he celebrates his 25th birthday, a very real chance to overtake his current skipper as the England player with the most Test centuries before reaching that milestone – he now has seven to Cook’s nine.
Not even a day book-ended by three wickets in the first and four in the final session could shake the enduring view that Australia’s bowling had been altogether too wayward in between the bursts of menace.
True to trade, Hazlewood was the tidiest of the attack and was the man to whom Clarke turned with perhaps the greatest hope during the day.
Starc, who looked to suffer a bout of stiffness to his right knee and was off the field for the last half hour, had periods when he was virtually unplayable amid spells when he had Haddin sprawling about like a goalkeeper.
Watch the full highlights from day one of the first Ashes Test, with Joe Root starring and Josh Hazlewood the ikc of the bowlers for the visitors (Australia only video)
While Johnson bowled with undoubted pace and aggression although that was noticeably mitigated by the pace of the pitch.
And Clarke, following an inspired opening hour when his early introduction of Lyon yielded the key scalp of Cook and the return to Starc brought two more in quick succession, sas understandably displeased with some of the bowling that didn’t allow him to build pressure.
Indeed, as Root and Ballance - and later Ben Stokes who belted a quick half-century – launched their counter-attack, the Australia captain carried the air of a driver endlessly pushing buttons on a car radio at the start of a long road trip unable to find a station that pleased him.
Bowlers were wrangled in spells of two or three stints with Starc employed in almost 10 separate spells, and even David Warner was tried with the ball for just the third time in Test matches stretching back more than two years.
The only bowling option not explored as Clarke wrung the changes was legspinner Steve Smith.
At day’s end, England’s 7-343 was not as daunting as it occasionally threatened.
But from Australia’s viewpoint, nor was it as lean as it should have been.
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