Ashes 2021-22 – Mark Nicholas

Phillip DeFreitas ran in to bowl on Michael Slater, the first ball in 68. Ashes. The ball pitched short, slightly outside the stump, and Slater thrashed it past points for four. Five hours and 24 minutes later, Slater was fired for 176 by a combination of two men whose age rose to 78 – Graham Gooch bowled and Mike Gatting caught – more than three times as much as their victim. Mark Waugh continued to score 140 in 20 balls fewer than Slater faced, though Waugh’s numbers of 14 fours and a six faded next to the opener’s mindless 25 limits. England lost by 184 runs.
Shane Warne took 8 for 71 in the second innings, after getting three for not many in the first. He was gradually becoming a global phenomenon, tearing his broken bones out and pulling lots of trees up elsewhere. The second time, I was sitting on the television portal across the screen with Michael Atherton and Alec Stewart – both surpassed by Warne shortly before – trying to unravel this magic bowler as Graeme Hick and Gooch and another Graham, Thorpe, hung out. brave and with great skill in the hope of saving the battle. When pieces were drawn the fourth night, England 211 for 2, hope was gently turned to expectation. Ha! Almost. Warne got all three in the end.
But before then, the fifth morning, I was strolling around in what was once the dog trail that surrounded the field with two masters of their own art, Barry Richards and Greg Chappell. Barry believed the right-handers had the best chance of making it if they stayed on the leg side of the ball and looked to strike with the leg stick through offside; Greg thought it was safer to hit the spin – a sight also had Martin Crowe (it could well have come from Greg, whom Martin put so much emphasis on). None of them counted too much on England’s chances, especially as Warne went around the wicket and landed it in the rough on the fifth day. Since Richards and Chappell G are two of the greatest batsmen who have played the game, you understand the problem. The game is over, they decided. And not long after our perambulation they were right.
It was only the third time I saw Ashes cricket in Australia. The first was soon out of school as I flew all over the world to go into the cinematic dreams that had occupied most of my young life. These began with John Snow bowling Ian Chappell’s team shortly after Bill Lawry was brutally fired. Anyone who could surpass Chappelli was good enough for me. Even Snow rarely got him out in the little backyard of London: especially when I was in the collar chewing Chappell, and my best mate, who was not a very fast bowler, was Snow. So, when I got the chance to be snowy, we all rolled over.
In Sydney in 1978-79 I saw Rodney Hogg traumatize one of the kind Geoffrey Boycott. Not that it mattered: England rolled home against the Packer-ravaged Australian team. Eight years later, on the 1986-87 tour, I saw every single ball of Australia’s consolation win in the same arena: the game where Dean Jones made an unbeaten 184 and the unheard of Peter Taylor took a lot of wickets with his offbreaks. In their minds, having won the series a week earlier in Melbourne, Ian Botham and company were still partying with Elton John at Sebel Townhouse.
From the first Slater shot to the last wicket that fell two years ago at The Oval, I have not missed a live moment with Ashes cricket. There are 71 matches and a certain privilege. It will therefore be a great excitement to tune in again on Tuesday at midnight, however, from 12,000 miles away. The first session on Gabba is without a doubt the most important in the series. All the clich├ęs apply again this time, much as they have ever done – the jump and pace of the course, the light, the heat and the humidity, the lack of hard combat training. It is a difficult place to play, a stronghold for the Australians, as Twickenham is for the English rugby players.
In this 27-year period with seven Ashes series down under, England have pulled twice in Brisbane – an electric storm saved them in 1998 – and lost on every other occasion. The second and most honorably achieved draw came when England first struck in 2010 but still had to fight like lions to save the match. Remember Alastair Cook’s great effort – 235 he was not out, across two days of defensive punch that made commentator Lawry drool. This was the game where Andrew Strauss won the throw and chose to strike. Overhyped, he hit his third ball in the hands of the cleft and walked away, looking as if his life was over. He had at least made the right choice to bat.
In 2002, Nasser Hussain followed Len Hutton’s 1954 example by choosing to bowl. I was at the border of Atherton, and when the coin fell in England’s favor, we exclaimed “Yes!” Then we heard “We’re taking a bowl.” In gods. England lost by 384 that year and by one innings and 154 under Hutton. (This is an old one, but heck: At the post-match press conference, Hutton was asked if he had read the court incorrectly. “Pitches are like wives,” he said, “you never quite know how they will turn out.”) England won the series, well, like they did in 2010.
By taking charge early in this period, Australia have made totals on – in order, since 1994 – 426, 485, 492, 602 for 9 declared, 295 (but 401 in their second innings) Last time, in 2017-18, beat England. first, made 302 and was on a steady first-innings keel until they collapsed in the third innings for only 195. So if the first innings of the game is not the most important (which it is), the third must definitely be. In other words, if you hit first, you have two options to swing the game firmly in your favor, because obviously batting first on a fresh course allows you to assert the initiative, and hitting third is inevitably more straightforward than last on a worn fifth-day track.
The worst Gabba test for an Englishman was 2006-07, especially an Englishman in an Australian comment box. Ricky Ponting’s team, licking wounds from the summer of 2005 in England, walked around Andrew Flintoff’s herd of men like a herd of wild dogs. Ponting made 196 in one of the major series setups; Glenn McGrath took six wickets in England’s first innings; Stuart Clark and Warne, four each in the other. It was mostly carnage, though Paul Collingwood and Kevin Pietersen made 153 together a second time. England lost the series 5-0, the first time this had happened since “Big Ship” Warwick Armstrong armed Australia to such a margin in 1921.
The first ball of the 2006 match was bowled by Steve Harmison and was no less disgraceful than the one bowled by DeFreitas. In fact, it was something more because it missed the return fold line outside Justin Langer’s off-stump at a yard and was taken at the first drop by Flintoff. Apparently, David Lloyd said on Sky TV: “Usually, when the first ball of the match slips, the bat is involved.” Certainly, in the newspapers, Martin Johnson wrote something along the lines of: “England’s plan to get the ball to Flintoff as quickly as possible worked perfectly.”
In 2013 at Gabbatoir, as the more nationalist Australians like to call the modernized land, the English were jumped out and thrown off for fun. Jonathan Trott was in mental turmoil; The sight of an organized and successful cricketer at sea – almost humiliated – was really painful. Within 24 hours of the end of the match, he was gone, back to the UK, brain confused by international cricket and fried by the seriously fast Mitchell Johnson with his left arm. At the other end was the perfect foil, Ryan Harris, who nipped the ball around like a Yorkshire seamstress at Headingley in April, but with a candy or two more in pace. The aforementioned Hogg suggested that Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson in 1975 would not have been more formidable or intimidating a couple than Johnson and Harris the Australian summer. Trott himself later wrote, “They circled like hyenas about a dying zebra.”
So there you have it – herds of dogs, circulating hyenas, whatever, the Australians at Gabba are some suggestions. England is well underdone – blue, actually. And yet Australia lost to India the last time they played there, which was early this year. What’s more, they scored 369 strokes first and lost.
Names like Shubman Gill, Mayank Agarwal, Rishabh Pant, Washington Sundar, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Siraj, young cricketers uninhibited by the baggage of the past, simply took on the Aussies in the decisive match in an unforgettable series, a series in which India had been ruled out. 36 in the second round of the first test, in Adelaide. Thirty-six one day, the Border / Gavaskar trophy the next! No fear, you see; just ambition. This achievement proved that you can do anything in sports if you want to do it badly enough, but you can absolutely not fear failure. Even the hint of it scares you. You have to believe and you have to play without hesitation. You blink, you’re gone.
Joe Root is ready for this. First, it’s probably his last chance to win in Australia as captain. Analysts and journalists say the wet weather is helping his cause. Players like Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler are ready for it; Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad too, after a distant guess, for both are in the saloon of last chances. These five are powerbrokers, but are they the influencers, or are they the young people? How heavy will the baggage from two previous tournaments and ten matches be, of which nine have been lost and one drawn on the flattest Melbourne track remembered?

In Australia, you have to stick to the basics. You have to make decisions based on facts not funk; you have to see the new ball off – both the Slater and Cook methods work – and hit the old one for a long time; you should use the new Kookaburra wisely by beating up and getting the batsmen to play, and using the old one with patience and cunning. Choose a spinner whatever. You have to concentrate in the field, no matter how steamy the conditions, because chances rarely come your way and they have to be taken. Think hard and know what you are about to go towards the end of the day: things are happening in Australia closest to witchcraft, so do not go out on the assumption that the day is over: many a test match down under is won by the strangest events of the last half hour of the day. Finally, make sure you look your opponent in the eye and do not blink.

The whisper is that England could benefit from Australia’s rookie captain, Pat Cummins. Do not buy it: He is a wise man, old-fashioned in many ways, which is not bad. The basics are his go-to, hard grafting his words. Steve Smith will be by his side, ensuring that Cummins uses his own bowling to its maximum effect and that fielders are placed at the right angles and distance to the task. Cummins can do the rest. If the best captains create teams in their own image, expect the one created by Cummins to be a little friendlier than the recent ones, but no less competitive. There are few better men in cricket than Root and his newly appointed opposite number. From them should come a fair and attractive series where Australia starts favorites. The responsible men would do well to look for a smile on everyone’s face as a reminder that playing the game, especially at this point, is an even greater privilege than watching it.
At midnight in London on Tuesday, I will smell and feel the thick Brisbane air from the comfort of the courtyard, hear the roar of the crowd as players take the pitch, and wonder if this English team can do like no other since Mike Gatting’s team of ‘Can’ t bat, can not bowl, can not field “no-hopers arrived at Gabba in 1986. To make a long story very short, Lord Botham smashed Merv Hughes around the fold and England rose with seven wickets.

Oh, by the way, Allan Border won that roll and chose to bowl first. England made 456. Enough said.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, is a TV and radio host and commentator

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