England 215; Australia 75 for 4.
Trent Bridge, Nottingham – This was a great day for spectators and a rotten day for forecasters. The weathermen got it all wrong for a start, allowing us to believe that the first day of the latest Ashes celebration would be played in the warm summer weather England sometimes receives at this time of year from the Azores. Not a bit of it. As visitors drew back the curtains they saw the sky was a leaden grey and the atmosphere was close and faintly damp.
Perfect conditions for swing bowling, and each team had a skilled man to exploit the conditions. Peter Siddle for Australia and Jimmy Anderson of England are two of the best bowlers in the business, and between them they made for a frenetic and absorbing day’s cricket in which 14 wickets fell for 290 runs. England were bowled out in 59 overs for a meagre 215; both Cook and Kevin Pietersen were out cheaply. Having lost four wickets already, including that of the captain Michael Clarke, for a duck, Australia is 140 runs behind.
The sides are evenly matched. One of them will win this game, probably before the scheduled close on Sunday evening. The other thing the forecasters got wrong was the balance of power between the two teams. Australia played today in a way that mocked the predictions of those who said this is such a weak team that the Ashes would be no contest. Predictions on the first morning of the series were less melodramatic, but when England won the toss and Alistair Cook said he would bat, Australia was still the underdog. By close of play their prospects were looking up.
The game began strangely when Australia awarded a first cap to a 19-year-old left-arm spin bowler from Melbourne called Ashton Agar, who had played only six first-class games for Western Australia before being chosen for the touring party. Darren Lehmann, the new coach felt it necessary to explain why he had been chosen. He and Clarke had been impressed by the drift through the air and off the pitch Agar had achieved playing in a county game in Taunton and they thought it would prove troublesome to the long list of England’s righted hand batsmen.
Agar is part-Sri Lankan, tall, slim and dark haired. Steve Smith tousled it before his first over in test cricket. He had not waited long, Clarke brought him on at 12.15pm. A fictional version of this story would have the young lad running through the English top and middle order and putting his team in a winning position. The reality was rather more banal. Agar did occasionally trouble a skilled operator such as Jonathan Trott, but he did not seriously threaten. He bowled seven overs and conceded 24 runs without taking a wicket. He will remember the occasion more clearly than the people who had come to watch.
The wickets fell to the fast bowlers, particularly to Siddle who took five of the first six English wickets to fall. He is a stocky, tough looking man you would want on your side in a confrontation on a dark street. His two colleagues, James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc are taller, but Siddle pitches the ball up and swings the ball late. He clean bowled Joe Root and Trott, had Pietersen and Ian Bell caught in the slips. His fifth wicket came when Matt Prior slashed wildly and was caught tamely at point. Pattinson and Starc dealt promptly with the tail-end. Starc narrowly missed out on a hat trick when England lost its last four wickets for two runs. It was a weak England performance, a reminder of bad old days when only deep reserves of stoicism enabled England supporters to face another day at the cricket and Australian immigration officials would inquire of Englishmen turning up for Ashes series why they bothered to come all that way to watch their team lose.
The Australian visitors to Trent Bridge are crowded together in large groups, and they were in good voice when the Australian innings began. England had chosen to play Steve Finn, a young man who bowls at more than 90 miles an hour. His problem is that he concedes more runs than any of his colleagues. Shane Watson, who has much to prove in this series, seemed to play with Finn, hitting three fours and then spoiling it all by edging a fast ball to second slip. That setback looked worse after the next ball, which Ed Cowan likewise edged to the slips. A setback began to look like a disaster when Michael Clarke was hopeless beaten by a beautiful straight ball from Anderson which dislodged the bail on his off-stump.
A repair job was undertaken by Chris Rogers and Steve Smith, but Rogers was lbw to Anderson. Australia were 53 for 4. Some lusty blows by Steve Smith, who hit Graeme Swann, England’s master spinner, into the pavilion for six, relieved the tension. Only for the time being. Tomorrow will be a crucial day.
Stephen Fay is a former editor of Wisden and author of books about the Bank of England and the collapse of Barings.