Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Ashes: Cardiff Test, Day One


Here they are, the duck England squad. Front row (L-R): Finn, Anderson, Root, Cook (C), Broad, Bell. Back row (L-R): Lyth, Ali, Wood, Stokes, Buttler, Ballance, Rashid. Unfortunately I couldn't find a team photo to mock up for Australia, so you'll have to bear with me for them. 

Crikey, I didn't expect to be doing this again, but here we are. The reason for bringing back duck cricket is, as you would expect, quite odd. But that's duck cricket for you. Anyway, having spent the past three years gathering dust on my various bookshelves, the ducks have been dusted off and are ready for a summer of representing the Ashes action.

And so, to the action. Like six years ago, the first Test is taking place in the rain sunshine of the SWALEC Stadium in Cardiff. Six years ago, the Test finished in a pulsating draw as the last wicket pair of Monty Panesar and Jimmy Anderson held out for 11.3 overs. What will this Test bring? Here's day one...

Rain is in the air and the ground has been soaked overnight but England, having won the toss, decide to have a bat. Cook, clearly on a high from an ODI series he had no part in, decides to put his faith in a top order that two Tests ago found themselves 30-4. Australia, to the bemusement of everyone, persist with Shane Watson rather than Mitchell Marsh, who had impressed in the warm up matches against Kent and Essex. 

Before the match can begin though, there's a bit more rain and the matter of an Ashes opening ceremony (no, really) to go through. The clock ticks past 11 and instead of Adam Lyth facing the first ball, we are greeted with a Welsh voice choir singing Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, followed by the anthems of Australia and 'England'. 
Sadly this doesn't capture the true awfulness of the opening 'ceremony'. In the absence of a team photo for Australia, the duck representatives are, starting with the tiny camouflage one, as follows (L-R): Clarke, Smith, Johnson, Warner, Starc, Lyon, Voges, Haddin, Hazlewood, Watson and Rogers.

Finally, at 11:15, 15 minutes after the scheduled start time, the Ashes gets underway. Mitchell Starc gets the honour of bowling the first ball - a big responsibility as sometimes, it sets the tone for the rest of the series. Would Starc bowl a Harmison? Would he take a wicket?
In the end, it sails harmlessly wide of Lyth's off stump and already, the pitch looks dead.
England survive the first over and quickly get off the mark in the second. Lyth hits the first boundary of the England innings off the bowling of Josh Hazlewood as he strays onto Lyth's pads. However, a couple of balls later...

Lyth, looking to repeat his shot to the boundary gets in an awkward position and ends up spooning a leading edge...
Straight into the waiting hooves hands of David Warner. England are 7-1.
An early wicket down and England's 2013/14 nemesis is brought on to bowl in an early change. Nothing to report really happens, so we jump to the 14th over with Nathan Lyon bowling. In a warm up game v Essex, Lyon ended up taking 1 wicket for 200 runs. England planned to attack.
It didn't go to plan. Cook, not exactly attacking minded like fellow Essex players Tom Westley and Ravi Bopara, ends up bringing out his cut shot...
And edging it behind into Brad Haddin's gloves. England are 42-2.
 It brings Ian Bell to crease.
And very quickly, he goes. His painful 7 ball innings comes to an end as he's trapped LBW by Mitchell Starc.
Bell ponders a review as it's possibly a bit leg-sided but it's probably umpire's call on Hawkeye. He doesn't bother and it leaves England in trouble at 43-3.
Bell's wicket brings Joe Root, the current darling of English cricket, to the crease. He's greeted with an LBW shout (inside edge) and then, chasing a wide one off the bowling of Starc, ends up hitting one behind. Fortunately for England, Brad Haddin drops it and Root, who later revealed he had no idea he'd edged it, survives.
After an uncomfortable first three balls, Root gets off the mark with a lovely drive down the ground for 4.
Essex bias is subtle as ever.
England go into lunch 88-3. Could be better, could be much, much worse.
A partnership develops between Ballance and Root, soon reaching 50. An edged 4 between third slip and gully brings up England's 100. Root, after a dodgy start and a few 'Brad Haddin' esque inside edges past the stumps, is playing some lovely cricket and soon brings up his 50. He attempts to play through midwicket but instead ends up sending it over to cover.
Root gets 2 and reaches his half century. "ROOOOOOOOOOOT" shouts the crowd, although David Warner is convinced they're booing.
England continue to rebuild. Root, going at a good pace, and Ballance looking to anchor one end, continue to keep the England score ticking over. In desperation, and with Clarke off the field, vice captain Smith goes for an optimistic review on an LBW shout on Root off the bowling of Lyon. It's optimistic because it transpires it pitched outside leg. Soon afterwards, a "quick" three between Ballance and Root sees them bring up their hundred partnership. 
Another 4 for Root, this time off Watson, sees England bring up the 150.
Starc, getting some abuse from some drunk Welshmen in the crowd, finds himself dispatched to the boundary by Ballance...
And it brings up his half century. Him and Root see out the rest of the session and head into tea on 190-3. 
A recovery from England and some runs for Gary Ballance, which is good to see after some early season struggles against New Zealand.
Soon after tea, though, England's resistance breaks. Ballance misses a straight one off Josh Hazlewood and is on his way for 61. England are 196-4. It brings the leader of the next generation of ginger heroes, Ben Stokes, to the crease.
Meanwhile at the other end, Root continues to score runs, here hitting a boundary...
Which brings up his second Ashes century (cheers Brad). Stokes is ecstatic and runs to embrace the young Yorkshireman.
After top edging Johnson for 6, Stokes continues where Essex left off and almost launches Lyon into the River Taff for a huge 6.
England bring up the 250. Clarke, looking for a wicket, turns to the unlikely bowler of David Warner (who actually has 4 Test wickets along with a terrible moustache). But the breakthrough doesn't come until Root, looking for another drive off the bowling of Starc, ends up edging it...
Straight to Shane Watson at first slip, who takes a low catch.
Root departs for a brilliant 134 and it leaves England 280-5. 
Stokes continues to look to be positive off the bowling of Lyon and he squirts a 3 into the offside...
To bring up his half century. All England sides need at least one proper ginger.
But Stokes soon departs as well. Starc, a man who clearly hates mornings and is usually rejuvenated by some bread at the tea break, gets one to swing past Stokes and sends his stumps clattering to the ground. Starc raises a finger to his lips, and Stokes is on his way. Expect the 'shush' to turn up at some point during Australia's innings. Probably from Joe Root.
Buttler gets down the other end and sends Starc to the boundary in the same over as Stokes falling. But Starc is struggling, either with cramp or an injury. Everyone hopes it's just cramp, although reports suggest that he might've done something to his ankle. We'll have to wait and see.
Moeen Ali also gets in on the attacking Lyon action by sweeping him over the boundary for 6.
A clip off the pads for 4 for Moeen, off the bowling of Johnson, brings up the 50 partnership between him and Buttler.
Their 50 partnership comes up off only 51 deliveries.
But, in a massive blow for England before the close, Jos Buttler departs.
He plays a poor shot, clipping it straight to waiting hands of Mitchell Johnson at mid on. He departs for 27 and it leaves England 343-7.
Mo attempts to smash Johnson's last ball of the day to the boundary but it instead sails harmlessly past and is collected by Haddin. The last over of the day is bowled by Josh Hazlewood, with Broad facing. He turns down a single off the penultimate delivery of the day and takes the final delivery. It, like the first ball of the day, is wide outside off stump. England survive and close on 343-7.

Blimey, I forgot how long this takes to put together.

Anyway, that's day 1 and it's fair to say it's honour's even. The wicket of Buttler is a huge bonus for Australia and a massive blow for England's chances of getting to 400. However, after being 43-3, England closing on 343-7 is excellent and it means that the day belongs, ultimately, to Joe Root. The bowling of Hazlewood and Starc, especially in the later hours of the day, caused England some bother and that's to be commended on a pitch that looking flat, and very dead. Whilst it's only been a year since the last Ashes series, it remains special and it's good to see England, albeit only on the first day, have a bit of fight.

And so, to the key questions ahead of day two. Will England get 400? Why is Mark Wood a Viking? Is Steve Smith the Baby Jesus? In fact, have I just raided a nativity set for some of these ducks? All these questions will (well, only the first one) be answered tomorrow morning. Do feel free to join me for day 2 highlights, hopefully not at this time of night tomorrow (I got sidetracked the Gasquet-Wawrinka match, sorry).

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