England suffered a heavy defeat in a thrilling first Ashes Test against Australia in Brisbane.
Ed Kemp of Wisden.com considers what we learned from the Gabba, and how the teams are shaping up ahead of the second Test in Adelaide.
Steve Smith might be even better than we thought
The Australian captain came into the series as the number one ranked Test batsman in the world and under huge pressure he showed exactly why. His innings demonstrated to both sides the value of restraint and longevity at the crease as he compiled a masterful, match-defining 141 from 326 balls in the first innings. This was the slowest of his 21 centuries but one of the most meaningful, as he provided a mature answer to every one of England’s creative tactical plans. His example with the bat is one that Joe Root and his men must themselves follow.
The other side of that coin is that England’s bowlers just couldn’t find a way to unsettle Smith, even when he came in following failure by David Warner and at a moment of high pressure. Although the tourists had Australia on the ropes at 76-4 in the first innings, they failed to capitalise, and in the second innings they failed to get a wicket at all, as Warner and Cameron Bancroft brought the game home. While James Anderson and Stuart Broad bowled economically throughout, Chris Woakes was disappointing and Jake Ball – preferred to Craig Overton in Brisbane – could yet be the victim of England’s collective failure in the match. Safe to say he’d rather bowl under lights in Adelaide than on a slow one in Brisbane, but it’s over to the selectors…
Moeen Ali needs overs
England’s off-spinning all-rounder is more crucial to his team’s plans than ever in the absence of Ben Stokes. He has made no secret of the fact that he’s still learning on the job as a Test match spin bowler, and he was equally honest in his assessment of his performance in the first Test, which he admitted was disappointing. The Worcestershire man has always said he needs to bowl plenty of overs to build his rhythm and confidence, and an injury early in the tour which saw him miss all England’s warm-up fixtures did him no favours coming into this match. The more overs he can get under his belt – albeit in the nets – between now and Saturday the better.
There remain significant question marks hanging over the Australian team, with Peter Hanscomb yet to find form and Tim Paine failing with the bat and dropping an easy catch with the ball. The fitness of their fast bowlers – perhaps the key to the series – looks good for now but England must bat for longer in order to put the likes of Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc under more physical pressure. Converting starts like those of Stoneman, Vince, Malan and Root is essential if they are to come back in the series, and could mean they face a weakened side later in the tour.
Alastair Cook’s form with the bat has gained plenty of attention during the first Test. The former captain failed in both innings and after being caught on his favoured hook shot late on day three, has even had his desire called into question. After all these years of toil at the top of the game, what fight does he have left? Well, Cook remains one of England’s best two batsmen, their record run-scorer, and a hugely determined professional. It would be a shock if he did not come good at some point in the series. My word, his team need him to.
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