13/08/2022

Joe Root has plenty to think about. pictured addressing his players before heading out onto the field. Image: cricket.com.au

Australia recorded a dominant win at the Gabba, leaving England in a familiar position, with scrutiny over decisions that could define the Ashes tour

Order has been restored at the Gabba, as Australia wrapped up a 9 wicket win over England to go 1-0 up just after lunch on the fourth day of play in the First Test.

After being led by captain Joe Root and Dawid Malan on the third afternoon to press the tourists well and truly back into the Test Match, England lost 8-77 in the first session of day 4, allowing Australia to rubber-stamp a comprehensive win to start the Ashes retention campaign at home.

As the attention turns to Adelaide, Here are the Top 6 talking points to emerge from the First Test at the Gabba.

Selection mysteries as opportunities go begging

England’s selected XI and decisions on the first morning remain the biggest talking point. They didn’t make sense at the toss and it makes even less sense now with the game run and done. The decision to ultimately omit Stuart Broad from the starting line-up, especially with fellow veteran James Anderson missing this match and being carefully managed, proved ultimately to be a misstep.

Broad’s absence allowed the Australian left-handed batters especially to settle and start finding their touch and build into the series. Not least David Warner, who Broad claimed 8 times in the previous Ashes series who rode his luck on the second morning and has already made a mark in this series with 94 first innings runs. Well and truly in the series.

Joe Root maintained post-match that their omissions was around management, citing a lack of cricket and injury ass reasons as to why both veteran quicks missed the match.

Then there was the toss, another decision that would end up defining the match. While it’s not quite as infamous as Len Hutton in 1950/51 or Nasser Hussain in 2002/03, winning the toss on a baked deck and opting to bowl, Root would have slumped to all fours after seeing his team be rolled for 147, inside 50 overs on the first day, after winning the toss and opting to bat.

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Root maintains that it was the right decision post-match, but so often, decisions can set the tone and shockwaves through a touring Ashes campaign. This looks to be yet another one of those moments.

Robin to Batman found but reliance on Root still far too great

England doesn’t win matches unless Ben Stokes does something ridiculous or if Joe Root doesn’t make runs. The England captain has owned 2021, making runs wherever he has gone, from Galle to the Gabba.

Root ticked over 1,500 runs for the calendar year this test, in the process breaking the England record for most runs in a calendar year, previously held by former captain Michael Vaughn. Root continues to move up the list in pursuit of the world record of most runs in a calendar year.

But if England is going to stand any hope in prising the urn out of Australia’s hands this tour, he’s going to need a number of teammates coming along with him, not only for the ride, but taking turns driving the bus.

He found an ally on Day 3 in Dawid Malan who showed his temperament and class, combining with the skipper for a 200 run partnership. While Root no longer has to worry about his number 3, the other remaining batting slots remain an issue. And with selection quandaries ahead of Adelaide looming, how much more can England afford to rely on Joe Root for the bulk of their scoring?

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Does Australia have a problem with getting wickets when the ball goes soft?

In England’s second innings, Haseeb Hameed was dismissed at the end of the 20th over when he edged through to Alex Carey. It would be another 40 overs of toil for the Australian bowlers before another wicket fell, Dawid Malan pushing a ball to Marnus Labuschagne at silly mid-off.

Taking 20 wickets is the key to winning test matches and again, it looked as if Australia’s much-vaunted big three quicks had issues taking wickets with the older ball, much like they did in the back end of the series last summer against India.

In a graphic shown by Channel 7 before play on Day 4, Trent Copeland revealed the numbers and averages of Australia’s fast bowlers in the second innings in the last three test matches they played in, highlighting the difficulties they had last summer against India and on Day 3 just gone against England.

It’s an alarming trend that has crept into Australia’s game. While in the first innings Australia had the help of the conditions on their side to add to their dominance against the English top order with the new ball. But, whichever bowlers are used throughout this series for Australia, this will be a trend they will hope to reverse.

 

Captain Cummins’ near perfect start

Everything he touched and did, turned to gold. The Pat Cummins era in Australian cricket is underway with a comprehensive win. So comprehensive he was close to hardly challenged in his first four days on the job.

Leading from the front in the first innings with a return of 5/38 off his 13.1 over, Cummins showed his hand at being an aggressive captain. A captain that makes moves to continue moving the game forward. Case in point on the first day and England are reeling at two down for not many, out walks Joe Root and Cummins brings himself straight on to bowl. Along with Josh Hazelwood, the two bowlers in world cricket who have had the greatest success against him.

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There will be difficult days ahead. Not every test will be completed in 3 days and a session and there will be days and sessions and decisions that will come back to haunt Cummins and have his brain ticking in a million directions. He has already given an insight as to how the dynamic with vice-captain Steve Smith is working, detailing a conversation on the fourth morning out on the field.

“I was going to bowl Starcy one more and Smithy kind of tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘I think it’s your turn’,” Cummins told reporters after play.

That over saw Cummins find the outside edge of Stokes, who was caught at gully before Cameron Green pointed towards the slips, where Smith was fielding.

“So I went up to him and gave him a big high five. He was a big part in that wicket,” he said.

Harris wobbles, Head cements as knocks continue from afar

Despite a couple of injury niggles to sort through, Australia would be reluctant to change a winning team after a comprehensive victory.

The leadup to the test series was about three positions for the Australian side and while in two out of the three, the discussions have largely dissipated, the chatter around the opening position and Marcus Harris will only grow louder if he fails once more in Adelaide.

Harris only scored three runs off 17 balls before Ollie Robinson found his edge and had him caught in the slips in the first innings. Despite only chasing 20 in the second dig, he was able to finish the game 9*, hitting the winning runs with a trademark square cut.

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Head selector George Bailey was strong on radio pre series, declaring that they would look to give Harris a prolonged run at the top of the order for Australia, but he would be hoping for a stronger performance in Adelaide because there are others knocking on the door.

Usman Khawaja, while not cashing in on his opportunity in the Australia A game, has an average of 96.80 including 2 centuries opening the batting for Australia. Fellow Queenslander Bryce Street hit 119* in the second innings for Australia A against the England Lions and has had a strong start to the Sheffield Shield season, as has South Australian Henry Hunt, who was substitute fielding for Australia on Day 4.

Travis Head has cemented his spot in the side for now with his blistering Day 2 century and Alex Carey was close to faultless behind the stumps as his competitor for the role Josh Inglis missed out with the bat but was tidy behind the stumps for Australia A.

In a spin cycle

It was a tale of frustrations for both off-spinners at the Gabba.

England has a problem with Jack Leach. How can Jack Leach’s place in the team, should he be picked for Adelaide, be justified after his exploits at the Gabba?

Maybe they will cite the slow over-rate that England was fined heavily for and the need to pick a spin bowler to vary their XI. But how does Jack Leach bounce back from being treated with absolute contempt from the Australian batters?

From the moment he was brought on, he was targeted and dispatched to all corners of the Gabba, conceding 1/102 off his 13 first innings overs with zero maidens.

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While Joe Root ponders what to do with his spinning options, Nathan Lyon will be breathing a heavy sigh of relief after 326 days of waiting for that elusive 400th test wicket.

While the fast bowlers did the job in the first innings in the favourable conditions, Lyon had numerous near opportunities to claim the milestone wicket on the third afternoon, coming within inches and a coat of paint multiple times.

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Lyon’s ineffectiveness and barren run in the middle of the second innings were enough to send people pondering life after the Goat. In his own words “The next wicket is always the hardest one to get” Lyon said post-match.

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