Well, it was good while it lasted. For almost three whole days of this first Test it really did look like England might compete and, whisper it, even win at the Gabba.
Sadly, normal service was quickly resumed on Sunday and on Monday morning Australia raced to what feels like a significant thumping victory. England now head to Adelaide pondering a horrible feeling of 2006 and 2013 deja vu.
Time and again England had chances to make an early mark on the Ashes but time and again they squandered them before being hurried to the brink of an emphatic and demoralising defeat. The opening exchanges turned into a tale of what might have been for England. But the gulf in class we feared Down Under has rapidly emerged.
Cameron Bancroft (left) and David Warner sealed a 10-wicket win at The Gabba for Australia over England in the Ashes
Bancroft (left) hit the winning runs and ended unbeaten on 82 runs while Warner knocked 87 to seal victory
England keeper Jonny Bairstow shakes hands with Bancroft after Australia sealed their commanding victory
Warner’s 87 helped seal a superb victory for Australia but heaped humiliation upon tourists England
Australia flexed their muscles and battered England after three days of near parity, firstly rushing them out for 195 and then, chasing just 170, seeing David Warner and Bancroft knock off the target with absolute ease. The Australian openers added 114 on the fourth evening and carried on on Monday morning to secure a humiliating 10-wicket victory just over an hour into the final day. To add insult to England’s injury their antagoniser-in-chief Warner made 87 not out.
Every time England looked set to put the pressure on, they either sold their wickets cheaply or found the old enemy had the greater strength and character to get themselves out of trouble.
England knew at the start of the fourth day, with two wickets down but their noses just in front, that if they batted all day they would have a chance to finish what has been a quite wonderful Test in the most glorious manner.
Yet old failings resurfaced at the worst possible times and England must quickly address their shortcomings. Coach Trevor Bayliss made it perfectly clear that half-centuries would not be good enough to win the Ashes and that England had to convert them into big hundreds to compete.
But, in contrast to the mammoth display of concentration and skill from Australia captain Steve Smith in making an unbeaten 141, England’s batsmen got start after start yet could not go on to match-defining innings. Their problem was summed up yesterday by England captain Joe Root, who has just as much class and ability as Smith but who is falling short of joining him in becoming a true great.
Joe Root trudges off after being dismissed by Josh Hazlewood, England’s captain managing 51 runs before getting out
England were blown away by the brilliance of Mitchell Starc, who claimed three wickets in quick succession on day four
Cameron Bancroft celebrates after Jonny Bairstow’s dismissal began a collapse of England’s tail order at the Gabba
Mark Stoneman was the first wicket of the day to fall for England as he was caught by Steve Smith off Nathan Lyon’s bowling
Smith dived to take the wicket of Stoneman as Australia’s captain caught off Lyon’s bowling during day four of the first Test
Australia captain Smith also caught Dawid Malan off the bowling of Lyon – for just four runs – as England’s next wicket fell
Moeen Ali is stumped out by Australia’s wicketkeeper Tim Paine off the spin of bowler Lyon for England’s sixth wicket
TOP SPIN AT THE TEST – BY LAWRENCE BOOTH
While England moved from 246 for four in their first innings to 302 all out, Australia converted a position of 76 for four into 328. And England were at it again in their second innings, slipping from 155 for five to 195.
The contrast between the two captains was telling, too. Steve Smith almost singlehandedly held Australia together on the third day with his superb unbeaten 141 not out, while Joe Root made only 15 and 51 – falling lbw on both occasions.
Since scoring his first Test hundred at The Oval in 2013, Smith has converted an incredible 21 of his 37 half-centuries into three figures. Root’s second-innings fifty confirmed that the difference between the two: he has turned only 13 of his 46 Test half-centuries into hundreds.
Worse, Root has scored only one hundred in the second innings: 180 against Australia at Lord’s in 2013, when he was an opener. And he has now been dismissed lbw 11 times in his last 29 Test innings.
Nathan Lyon won the battle of the slow bowlers. Although his first-innings figures of 36-12-78-2 were similar to Moeen Ali’s 30-8-74-2, it was in the second innings Australia’s off-spinner pulled away, taking three for 67, including Moeen – controversially stumped for 40. Hampered by a ripped spinning finger, Moeen could manage only four wicketless overs for 23 by the end of the fourth day.
Australia also had more depth in their seam bowling. Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson were outstanding in the first innings, returning combined figures of 54-20-99-5, but Chris Woakes and Jake Ball could not back them up, sending down 42-8-144-2.
All three of Australia’s quicks, by contrast, contributed. Mitchell Starc had match figures of six for 128, Josh Hazlewood four for 103 and Pat Cummins four for 107.
Root got to 50 on a morning when so much depended on him but, even though he barely acknowledged the landmark because of the need to kick on, he fell immediately afterwards.
It might seem harsh to criticise a captain with such a fabulous record, who has conducted himself so well and who led his team in the field, at least in the first innings, with imagination and authority.
But the statistics do not lie. Root has passed 50 on 46 occasions in Test cricket but has ‘only’ 13 centuries, while of his last 25 half-centuries he has only gone on to three figures five times. Compare that with Smith, who made his 21st Test century here and almost single-handedly dragged his team into a small but decisive first-innings lead by dealing expertly with everything England could throw at him.
Root’s dismissal by Josh Hazlewood came after Nathan Lyon, gaining more turn and bounce throughout than England’s Moeen Ali, had struck two early blows with pearlers to dismiss Mark Stoneman and Dawid Malan.
Ali left the field shaking his head after his controversial stumping which went to a review during the afternoon session
There was controversy over the thickness of the painted crease in Ali’s stumping by Paine which saw the England man walk
The Barmy Army were in full voice at the Gabba despite England’s batting order crumbling late on against Australia
Yet even after such a potentially fatal blow, England clawed back to the brink of ascendancy before Moeen fell in controversial and unsatisfactory fashion.
Moeen had added 42 with Bairstow before he attempted another slog sweep at Lyon and saw Tim Paine whip off the bails. Nobody seemed to think Moeen was in trouble apart from the wicketkeeper. But after countless replays, TV umpire Chris Gaffaney decided there was no part of Moeen’s left foot behind the line and gave him out even though there had to be doubt. What happened to giving the batsman the benefit of it?
England’s sense of grievance was not helped by pictures that showed the crease had been painted much thicker on the cut strip than off it. If it had remained the same width all the way across, Moeen would have survived. Cue ‘Wobblyline’ and ‘Shoddyline’ jokes on social media, while even Moeen, such a calm character, shook his head. By his standards it constituted serious dissent.
The writing was not quite on the wall while Bairstow was still there but Ben Stokes’s absence leaves a tail that looks extremely vulnerable to Australia’s express pace.
Lyon celebrates after dismissing Dawid Malan for just four runs as he was caught out by Steve Smith during day four
Bairstow scored 42 before he was caught by Pete Handscomb as England’s batting order began to collapse at the Gabba
Starc claimed Stuart Broad’s wicket after just two runs as the England bowler was caught out by Pat Cummins during day four
Up popped Mitchell Starc, now known as The Mop for his ability to wipe out lower-order batsmen, to blast through the last four wickets for 10 before tea.
Bairstow will be criticised for playing an upper cut straight to third man but it was a shot he would not have attempted had he felt any confidence in the batsmen around him once Chris Woakes had become the first of Starc’s three victims in 10 balls.
He had clearly been unsettled by sledging led predictably by Warner but also featuring his old Yorkshire team-mate Peter Handscomb.
It was a worrying glimpse of what lies ahead for England unless their talisman Stokes is suddenly cleared by police and rushed to Australia. And that is unlikely. Only twice has a target above 200 been successfully chased in Tests at the Gabba but 170 never seemed enough to trouble Australia on a pitch that got quicker and easier for batting as the match went on.
Starc is congratulated after taking the wicket of Chris Woakes as Australia ripped apart England’s tail order
(L-R) Lyon, Hazlewood, Cummins and Starc walk off after bowling England out for 195 during day four of the first Test
Broad appeals unsuccessfully for LBW against Warner (centre) as Australia’s second innings got off to a strong start
With the rain forecast before this Test nowhere to be seen, Australia had ample time and there was quickly a resigned air among the England teamy.
England will be concerned at the lack of impact of Woakes and Jake Ball, who offered scant support to Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, while Moeen looks rusty and hindered by a cut to the spinning finger on his right hand.
Nothing was more demoralising for England than the leading part played by motor-mouth Lyon who, infuriatingly, backed up his flammable words with actions.
The second Test, starting on Saturday under lights, gives England their best chance of success but they will need a huge improvement.
Bancroft hits a six for Australia off Ali’s bowling as England failed to claim the early wicket they needed against Australia
Warner bats as Australia made a strong start to their second innings as they began to chase down England’s run total
Australia’s openers would have been in high spirits as they walked off the pitch, needing just 56 runs to win the first Test
Bancroft lifts his bat to the crowd after securing his half century as Australia edged ever closer to an impressive victory