England skittled as Australia take control

Australia lead by 224 in first innings as England bowled out for just 136

 Steve Smith takes a catch to dismiss England’s Matt Prior for a duck on day two of the first Ashes test. Photograph: Dave Hunt/EPA

Steve Smith takes a catch to dismiss England’s Matt Prior for a duck on day two of the first Ashes test. Photograph: Dave Hunt/EPA

 

Where to start with that then? Perhaps begin at the beginning, as Dylan Thomas would have it: England managed Llareggub on a brutal day that might just have laid the foundations of an Australian Ashes success.

They began in high spirits. Stuart Broad had rocked the Australians on the first day to gain some respect from even the most curmudgeonly of locals, and in the first half hour of the second day finished off the innings with Jimmy Anderson, to finish with six for 81, the best by an England bowler at The Gabba since Bill Voce took 6-41 (and 10 in the match) to bowl his side to victory in 1936.

It looked gloomy for Australia. Their batsmen had been roasted, the team rescued by Brad Haddin and the lower order once more. Haddin’s bold 94 was defiant but on a pitch of this quality, 295 was surely well short of what might be expected. Indeed only in 1992 when they made 293 against West Indies and 2008 when New Zealand did them for 214, had they made fewer during their unbeaten run at The Gabba stretching back to 1988. The force was with Broad and it was very much with England.

But then it changed. Oh dear, how it changed. It is what can happen in cricket, best in show one minute, mongrel the next. England collapsed. Not just a small one but one straight out of England’s Bumper Book of Balls-ups. How we used to laugh in that nostalgic way for some of those demonstrations of batting incompetence that used to tickle our fancy in the old days before they became a Good Side.

Remember Melbourne just after Christmas in 1990, when the gangling left arm beanpole Bruce Reid sent them packing from 147 for four to 150 all out? Nothing quite so grand happened at The Gabba but they gave it their best shot.Between the last over before lunch, when Jonathan Trott was blown away by Mitchell Johnson to leave them 55 for two in reply, and an hour into the final session, when Broad, trying to flog what was left of the innings into some sort of life, was caught on the deep midwicket boundary, they lost nine wickets for 81. All out for 136. England, for all their collective plethora of Test match hundreds, have failed to make 400 in any of the 17 innings they have batted since they made 467 in Wellington earlier in the year.

By the close, impelled by the confidence from the bowling, David Warner and Chris Rogers had extended the lead by 65 to 224 without being parted, somehow making England’s bowling seem humdrum in the process: a gale such as Broad can generate is still a bit windy on the Beaufort Scale but it is not a hurricane.

If it sounds bad though, it is being charitable and those of a nervous disposition might want to look away. In one 10-over spell, before tea, as The Gabba crowd whooped and hollered with delight and derision, and England supporters stared in disbelief, they lost six processional wickets. Johnson bowled fast and furious sure enough and sent a shiver down the spine in the way that only express pace can. But Nathan Lyon, the off-spinner whose consistent absence from the Australian teams in order to accommodate clearly inferior bowlers remains a mystery, found himself on a hat-trick, as Ian Bell and Matt Prior both succumbed to bounce and a modicum of turn and were caught at short leg. Prior has batted twice at The Gabba now and has yet to face a second ball. The tumble of wickets was relentless and somehow inevitable as a result.

Key to this was the manner in which the Australian bowlers, even Johnson to an extent, hoist England on their own petard of ‘bowling dry’. In particular, Kevin Pietersen, in his 100th Test, was kept sufficiently quiet that he tried to break out and clipped Ryan Harris to midwicket. Michael Carberry meanwhile, on his comeback to Test cricket had batted with calm, watchful assurance – especially after Alastair Cook had edged a fine delivery from Harris that he had to play – his judgment impeccable outside off stump. Yet he too ground to a halt, held up by a combination of seam and Lyon’s offspin, made one run in his last 35 balls, and, when Johnson attacked him from round the wicket, edged his third ball to slip. Forty was a good effort and, as it turned out, riches.

Johnson was outstanding, for the danger is that his maverick nature could, if he misfired, put too much pressure on Harris and Siddle. He began with a leg-side full toss, and that was as bad as he got for he bowled with great rapidity and was on target. Most telling perhaps, was his deconstruction of Trott before the first interval and the way in which he swept Joe Root aside later. After the manner in which he failed to cope with Johnson in the recent one day series in England, it was inevitable that Trott would be given a working over now and he was not to be disappointed. Hit on the glove in front of his face early on, he threw himself over to the off-side for 19 deliveries, trying to avoid the missiles, until finally he followed one down the leg-side and touched to Haddin.

For Root, on the other hand, they gave a friendly short-pitched greeting. But they see a batsman who cannot get properly forward with consequent trouble against the ball pitched up. Johnson fired one across his bows, full but wide enough to leave, and Root nibbled. Steve Smith made no mistake at second slip. Root made a big Ashes hundred at Lord’s this year but this really was taking candy from a kid. Guardian Service

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