Vodafone Men's Ashes
Cummins claims five, England routed before rain
Pat Cummins has made a perfect start to life as Australia's Test captain, claiming five wickets as England were dismissed for 147 on day one of the Ashes before rain washed out the final session
8 December 2021, 11:00 PM AEST
According to the well-worn cricket maxim, it's not possible to win a Test match within the first session or two but it offers sufficient time to make a decent start on losing one.
While England's hopes in the Vodafone Ashes opener are far from spent, especially with Brisbane forecast to cop more storms in coming days, it's going to take a remarkable shift in form and fortune to quell Australia's head of steam.
Being knocked over for 147 in 50.1 overs represented the leanest start to a team's Ashes campaign since Australia were barrelled for 118 on day one at Edgbaston in 1997.
The fact Mark Taylor's men bounced back from the ensuing nine-wicket defeat to win that series 3-1 might offer some solace to an England outfit that begins day two at the Gabba with their rivals yet to start their first innings after rain accounted for the final session today.
But it was as much the manner in which a day of heavy cloud and then torrential rain played out at the Gabba that potentially set a portent for the men's Test summer ahead.
For all their detailed planning and careful preparation, Australia could not have penned a more clinical opening day had they enlisted a bingeworthy TV series' gun screenwriter.
The pieces began falling into place before a ball was bowled; indeed, before a coin was tossed.
The team sheet proffered to Australia's freshly minted skipper Pat Cummins by his rival captain Joe Root (leading England for the 57th time) showed the most successful new-ball pair Test cricket has known – James Anderson and Stuart Broad – listed among the substitute fielders.
It's fair to assume that even if the coin had landed in Cummins' favour and he was able to exercise his stated preference to bat first, Broad's absence would have brought an inner glow to Australia opener David Warner given the England veteran dismissed him seven times in 10 innings in their most recent Ashes battle.
However, with thick clouds overhead and an equally lush mat of grass underfoot, Cummins wasn't fazed when the coin showed 'tails' as Root had called, and even happier to toss the new ball to his swing specialist Mitchell Starc rather than take first use of it himself.
As Starc's opening partner Josh Hazlewood observed with typical understatement at the end of the first session – by which time England were 4-59 and already on the ropes – his mate makes something of a habit of taking wickets early in an innings.
Even by Starc's standards, the mess he made of Rory Burns's stumps with the first delivery of the series made for some statement.
Burns had begun his Ashes campaign on the move, edging across his stumps in expectation of Starc's famed outswinger that he hoped to negate by making his well beyond his off-stump.
Unfortunately for the left-hander, for his team and for England fans watching and listening in eager expectation around the world, the ball began its hooping trajectory from outside leg stump before homing in on the timber.
That meant Burns had to hastily double-back and jam down desperately like someone trying to fend off an angry Shih Tzu nipping at their trouser cuffs, but the damage was done.
His sixth duck of 2021 earned him an unwanted place in England cricket lore as he surpassed former captain Mike Atherton's benchmark of five globes in a calendar year – in 1998, when a torrid tour of the West Indies saw Atherton step down from the captaincy.
As Starc bellowed in triumph, and the Gabba erupted while the fast bowler's teammates engulfed him, the sense of an unfolding calamity began to build.
Starc was spelled after just two overs, but by that time Hazlewood had nipped out England's No.3 Dawid Malan and Australia had achieved another of their pre-match goals by getting Root to the crease with the ball new and the bowlers in command.
The England skipper went to the crease as Test cricket's leading runs scorer for 2021 by some margin – 1455 runs at an average of 66.13 over a remarkable past 11 months – but also carrying the memory of three ducks (from a total of 12 balls faced) in his past eight Ashes innings.
That record now reads four ducks from 25 balls faced, all of them as captain with the only other Test skipper to pocket more against Australia being New Zealand's Stephen Fleming who ended his career with six.
England limped to the first drinks break 3-24 and with inspirational allrounder Ben Stokes – their best hope of an emphatic counter-punch – a circumspect 1 from 17 deliveries, although he signalled a change of intent by punching the second ball after resumption to the cover fence.
That was followed immediately by Cummins' knockout blow, bowling around the wicket and getting a ball to climb on the left-hander who fended in surprise to third slip.
Aye aye, skipper! Pat Cummins' first Test wicket as captain is the dangerous Ben Stokes! #OhWhatAFeeling@Toyota_Aus | #Ashes pic.twitter.com/AKjsV0qK5c— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) December 8, 2021
England's hopes then rested with Ashes rookies Haseeb Hameed and Ollie Pope, who had been preferred to another experienced option Jonny Bairstow in England's middle-order.
The pair negotiated 14 overs in which they more than doubled England's score, but with the second ball after lunch Cummins removed Hameed who had appeared unfazed and largely untroubled amid the chaos unfolding around him.
Dubbed 'Baby Boycott' in his early years at Lancashire, in deference to a temperament and technique more often seen in opening bats of eras past, the 24-year-old made it to lunch only to lose his wicket from the second ball he faced on resumption.
It was a canny piece of bowling from Cummins who lured the right-hander cautiously forward to a ball that held its line as the top half of England's batting was fired out with 60 on the board and abject disaster threatening.
Despite claiming on Test eve the whirlwind 71 (from 32 balls) he clouted off Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins at the recent T20 World Cup counted for little when the formats and ball colour changed, Jos Buttler brought a brief but belligerent riposte despite England's strife.
Buttler decided attack was the only way to deal with Hazlewood whose first seven overs had yielded 2-3, and he repeatedly lifted the Australia quick over the in-field as he and Pope took their team beyond 100 and posted a 50 partnership with a Buttler boundary off Starc.
However, hopes of a meaningful rearguard rescue were dented next ball when Buttler presented his rival keeper Alex Carey with his second catch of a tidily impressive Test debut and ended completely when Cummins pulled another captaincy master stroke.
He recalled allrounder Cameron Green who had generated sharp pace in his two over spell prior to lunch, and with his first delivery after the break he surprised Pope with a short delivery that was on him quicker than England's last batting hope expected.
The resultant top-edged pull shot was snared by Hazlewood at full stretch and full tilt running in from the fine leg fence, a stunning effort he reprised to finish England's innings seven overs later.
Those two catches not only underscored the mastery Australia had displayed in a bowling and fielding effort that brought barely a blemish in 238 minutes of dominant Test cricket, it ensured Cummins entered the history books in his maiden outing as captain.
His 5-38 not only earned him his first Ashes five-for, he became the first Australia men's Test skipper to snare five wickets in his captaincy debut and the first to achieve the feat in an Ashes contest since England's Stanley Jackson captured 5-58 at Trent Bridge in 1905.
For the sake of short-term future reference, best match bowling figures for a first-time Test captain remains Waqar Younis's 13-135 for Pakistan against Zimbabwe in 1993.
There were other notable firsts for Australia on an emphatic opening day of their Ashes defence.
Carey's inaugural outing as Test keeper came after he received Baggy Green Cap number 461 from former Test gloveman Adam Gilchrist who – like today's debutant – claimed three catches on his first day as a Test cricketer at the Gabba (in 1999) to announce his arrival.
And Green's removal of Pope heralded his maiden Test wicket in his fifth match, an achievement that was greeted with a broad grin from the 22-year-old bowler and an effusive celebration from his teammates.
The only potential moment missed was the much-anticipated wicket that would carry Nathan Lyon to 400 Test scalps, with the spinner needed to send down just nine overs (0-21) as the quicks wrought havoc.
His chance will surely come in the second innings, as England attempt to become the first team to win a Test between the game's oldest rivals having posted a total of 147 or less in the first innings since Australia stole the historic Centenary match at the match at the MCG in 1977.
And as the purists will point out, that wasn't an Ashes fixture meaning it hasn't been achieved in battles for the urn since Australia triumphed after being bowled out for 137 on day one of the fifth Test in Sydney in February 1908.
Australia XI: David Warner, Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Alex Carey (wk), Pat Cummins (c), Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood
England XI: Rory Burns, Haseeb Hameed, Dawid Malan, Joseph Root (c), Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler (wk), Chris Woakes, Ollie Robinson, Mark Wood, Jack Leach
Vodafone Men's Ashes
Australia: Pat Cummins (c), Steve Smith (vc), Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Michael Neser, Jhye Richardson, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner
England: Joe Root (c), James Anderson, Jonathan Bairstow, Dom Bess, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Zak Crawley, Haseeb Hameed, Dan Lawrence, Jack Leach, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood
First Test: December 8-12, The Gabba
Second Test: December 16-20, Adelaide Oval
Third Test: December 26-30, MCG
Fourth Test: January 5-9, SCG
Fifth Test: January 14-18, TBC