Quick single: whose day?
343-7 (88 overs)
Australia’s day: the pitch is benign and conducive to heavy run scoring; seven wickets taken on a day when the bowlers lacked focus and looked only intermittently threatening.
England’s day: took the attack to Australia’s bowlers, scoring at nearly four runs per over across the whole day; Root reinforced his status as the key batsman and Ballance demonstrated he can battle to make runs.
Add to the mix the selective punctuation points of 43-3 and 280-4 and more arguments can be made in favour of one team or the other.
Our keenness to call the first day of the Ashes series suggests it has meaning: setting the tone for cricket to be played across England and Wales over the next seven weeks; establishing advantages and inflicting inferiorities that will recur in the twenty-odd days to come.
Is that the role of the first day of an Ashes series – to create patterns of play and relative position that predict its outcome? I have looked at day 1 of the last ten Ashes series.
2013/14 Brisbane: Australia 273/8 (Warner 49, Haddin 78*, Johnson 64, Broad 5-65)
Day 1 did not foreshadow Australia’s dominance or England’s horrors. In retrospect, it seems a day belonging to the preceding series, rather than the one it started. Haddin’s salvage job on the Australia innings from 100-5 was to become a feature of the series. Johnson, it is often said, bowls better when he has scored runs and that association proved, in this case, true.
2013 Trent Bridge: England 213 (Trott 48, Siddle 5-50), Australia 75-4 (Smith 38*)
It could be argued that day 1 at Nottingham fairly summarised a series where England’s worst could be outdone by Australia’s; or more generously, Australia would be unrewarded for periods of fine cricket (in this case Siddle’s bowling). The only major player on that first day to go on to have distinguished series was Anderson, who took two of the wickets to fall, including Clarke bowled with a gem.
2010/11 Brisbane: England 276 (Bell 76, Cook 67, Pietersen 43, Siddle 6-54), Australia 25-0
England’s disappointing first day of the series (second and third days, as well) were poor indicators of this contest’s ultimate direction. Some of England’s batsmen showed form that was to develop into great richness. Siddle took almost half of his wickets in the series on that first day.
2009 Cardiff: England 336-7 (Pieterson 69, Collingwood 64, Prior 56)
A closely contested day’s play, with the initiative swinging between the sides and no dominant individual performance was a fair microcosm of the 4 and 4/5 Tests that followed.
2006/07 Brisbane: Australia 343/3 (Ponting 137*, Langer 82, Hussey 63*)
It wasn’t the first day that summed up this series, but the very first ball: Harmison’s wide delivered straight to his captain at first slip. Australia cruised to a big total on the first stretch of their cruise to a 5-0 whitewash of England.
2005 Lord’s: Australia 190 (Langer 40, Harmison 5-40), England 92-7 (McGrath 5-21)
This thrilling day was a fitting overture for ‘the greatest series’. It suggested however that England’s best would not be quite enough to topple Australia. The day also impressed on all the importance of McGrath, though noone was thinking about the impact his absence would later have.
2002/03 Brisbane: Australia 364/2 (Hayden 186*, Ponting 123)
Day 1 was one of many in the series that Australia won by a distance. Hayden and Ponting scored heavily while England toiled. Simon Jones’s injury, sliding in the field, was the most serious of a number than hampered England in the matches that followed.
2001 Edgbaston: England 294 (Stewart 65, Atherton 57, Caddick 49*, Warne 5-71, McGrath 3-67), Australia 133/2 (Slater 76*)
A rambunctious first day saw runs scored at almost five per over. The hints on this day of close competition were misleading as England failed to reach 250 in another innings until the fourth Test when the series had already been lost. Warne and McGrath – 8 wickets on the day – kept up their early momentum, sharing 63 wickets in the five Tests.
1998/99 Brisbane: Australia 246/5 (S Waugh 69*, Healy 46*, Taylor 46)
Australia emerged on top after a tightly fought opening day. England could only attain that level of competitiveness sporadically across the series that followed.
1997 Edgbaston: Australia 118 (Warne 47, Gough 3-43, Caddick 5-50), England 200-3 (Hussain 83*, Thorpe 80*)
England had a first innings lead before the end of the first day. It was an aberration, although not one Australia could correct until the second Test (England bowled out for 77). By the fifth of the six Test series, Australia had a 3-1 lead.
Five of these first days proved to be fair indicators of the direction the series would ultimately take. There were too many false clues laid, however, for any reliance to be placed on the first day as a predictor of the cricket that follows.