Thursday, 6 August 2015

Blown away

Thursday, 6 August 2015
This series gained the 'unpredictable' tag a long time ago, but today went even further than that. Who in their wildest dreams could have predicted that England, bowling first, would be batting before lunch and have a lead of over two hundred by the end of the day? That's what it felt like, a dream. One we had to pinch ourselves to check that it was all real, that we wouldn't all collectively wake up like it had never happened.

But it was real, and it did happen. A mere 18.3 overs was all it took for each Australian batsman to walk out to the middle to bat, and then take the long walk back. You couldn't blink for a wicket to tumble, and the records were falling just as quickly. No sooner had Broad dismissed Rogers for a duck (his first in test cricket, in his 45th innings) in the first over for his 300th test wicket, than he had equalled the record for the fastest five-for in test history - a mere 19 deliveries. Australia were torn apart, their top scorer being extras with 14, and only Clarke (10) and Johnson (13) reaching double figures. Broad more than made up for the absence of Anderson through injury, being a wrecking ball through the Australian line up in taking 8/15. Ashes bowling figures by an Englishman only bettered by Jim Laker. Australia managed only 136 in the first innings at Edgbaston, but reflecting on that score today they might have been happy. 60 all out. The sort of thing you might expect at club or school level, not on the first day of an Ashes test.

England and Broad were brilliant, but more than anything Australia let themselves down. The pitch and the weather pointed to a bowl-first pitch, but not a 60 all out pitch. Rogers has been the man who has looked the most comfortable in English conditions, having a technique honed from years and years of county experience, playing the ball late. It's brought him a lot of success, today apart, but rarely have his teammates followed his example. Too often were the batsmen going at the ball too hard, too early - the result just being an edge behind to a slip cordon rubbing their hands with glee. Clarke's dismissal was perhaps the worst of the lot. He's been under a lot of pressure in this series, and coming into this match there was great speculation about his future and plans to retire - and he did nothing to assuage it all. The captain, the man you turn to in the batting line up in the big situations, just took an audacious swipe at the ball and edged it straight to his opposite number. It would be a terribly misjudged shot by any batsman early in his innings, even more so coming from the captain when the team is already 29/5.

The luck was with England. Everything they did seemed to go right. The catching - one of the major problems earlier in the summer against New Zealand - was sensational. We've already seen some brilliant catches from the England fielders in this series - Cook at Cardiff, Root at Edgbaston - but today Stokes topped the lot. The ball had practically gone past him when it stuck in his hand, diving away to his right. Broad's look of stunned disbelief summed up everyone's feelings, really:

Of course, England then had plenty of time to bat, and bat they did. On his own, Joe Root (124*) more than doubled the Australian score. It was his second century of this Ashes series, and as ever he just looked at ease making it. It's like he plays a different game to the rest of them, not looking ultra-aggressive and yet scoring with a strike rate near 80. For the most part he batted alongside Bairstow, whose 74 was not always convincing - the boundaries coming at times sumptuously and at times streakily - and between them the pair racked up a partnership of 173 from just 34 overs, taking the match even further away from Australia. Already England's lead stands at 214, six wickets still to go.

Really it's the kind of day that's hard to describe - one that's hard to believe but one it'll certainly be hard to forget. I still can't do much more than stutter and nervously laugh in disbelief about the day's events. Did it really all happen like that? Well, apparently, yes. Before the game Alastair Cook was calling for his team to etch their names into history, for someone to step up and make that difference. Stuart Broad did that. And it was beyond any of our wildest dreams.

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