For the first time in over a decade, England had created chances for themselves in the first three days of the Brisbane Test in the Ashes. All the hype about the Australian pace trio, which was created leading up into the series, suddenly was blown into the air. However, the final two days witnessed a major turn-around in the Test that put Australia in an invincible position before they crushed the visitors by 10 wickets. Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood lived up to the expectations, despite Gabba’s track being more greener than its usual touch which allowed Australian spinner Nathan Lyon to join the party.
Starc made an early breakthrough on the opening day of the Test by removing former England Captain Alastair Cook cheaply for two runs. The Australian bowlers went on the backfoot when new faces in the England side, James Vince and Mark Stoneman built a reviving partnership for their side. Their stand of 125 runs for the second wicket did the damage control after Cook’s early dismissal. On the second day, five-Test old Dawid Malan along with Moeen Ali frustrated the hosts with their 80-plus stand for the fifth wicket, which in turn did harmed the image of the Australian pace attack even more. Even then, Starc and Cummins finished with three wickets apiece and Hazlewood and Lyon had one each.
The unleashing took place when England came out to bat for the second time. It was then when the Australian pace trio truly lived up to their image of being one of the fiercest attacks in the current era. The buzz before the Ashes began was more about Cummins and Starc, while Hazlewood has never been considered at par with Starc-like bowlers. However, the underrated Hazlewood is a complete package as a quick bowler. It is his economy that allows Cummins and Starc to bring out their inner beasts.
“He’s quick, he can bowl bumpers, he can control the new ball, he can swing it in and out, he can reverse it. I haven’t seen a bowler who’s got that control in a long time. He’s the best fast bowler in the world,” Lyon said about Hazlewood before the first Test in Brisbane went underway.
The baby-faced fast bowler justofied Lyon’s bold statement when he removed two of the England’s top-order batsmen in the span of six runs. In his second over in the third innings, he dismissed Cook before he removed first innings’ England hero Vince, in his next over. The job, which was started by Hazlewood in the beginning of the innings, was wrapped up by the duo of Starc and Cummins towards the end. They made four breakthroughs for 10 runs in 21 balls; out of which Starc claimed three and the final man became Cummins’ first victim of the third innings.
A century, an unbeaten opening stand and 20 England wickets – this was the summary of the Australian side at the end of the Gabba Test, which will ensure this bunch would go with sheer confidence into the second Test in Adelaide.
Hard luck, Sayers
With the Adelaide Test being a day-night match, there were speculations about the local medium pacer Chadd Sayers coming into the picture for Australia. Adelaide’s track has been known to aid seam bowling, due to the extra grass on the top. Sayers, who not only moves the ball both ways but also has numbers to prove his dominance in Adelaide. He has 243 wickets in 58 First-Class matches and out of those, 87 are in Adelaide Oval at flipping 20.3.
However, to fit him into the playing XI, Australia had to exclude one of the bowlers from the side. Since they have roped in an extra batsman for the No. 6, Shaun Marsh, their bowling options have been limited to the three fast bowlers and the spinner. Since, Lyon is the sole spinner and considering Adelaide supports spin too, dropping Lyon is out of the question. That left the choice between Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins. After the three picked 14 out of the 20 wickets in the Brisbane Test, there was no way the captain and management could think about leaving one of these guys out of the second Test.
The trio not only has an edge on papers but also mentally. James Anderson, one of the oldest guys in the English side and easily considered as one of the aggressive bowlers to have played the sport. Inspite of being aware of the mentality of the pacers and how to deal with it as he is one of them, Anderson in the third innings complained to the on-field umpires saying that Australians were bowling dangerously.
When Anderson was batting at No. 11, he had Jake Ball on the other end, who was the victim of some blunt bowling but legal bowling from the Australians. Ball faced one bouncer from Starc and four from Cummins, the last of which he tended to fly towards slip and was caught for one.
Sayers picked 40 wickets in five Adelaide matches last year in Sheffield Shield. Considering Cummins’ injury history, Australia could have given him rest for the second Test as they had an Adelaide specialist on the bench. But then, apart from arguably being the best bowler of the Brisbane Test, Cummins showed signs of chipping in as an all-rounder too. It was him who stuck around with Steven Smith during Australia’s collapse in their first innings. The two put up 66 runs for the eighth wicket that helped Australia revive their innings. He even registered his highest Test score of 42 off 120 balls and that too in his very first Test at home.
Meanwhile, Starc doesn’t believe he nor Hazlewood and Cummins need a rest. The trio is pumped up with confidence and Starc has spoken to the selectors to go with an unchanged pace attack and hence they have decided to ignore Sayers.