Apart from the valiant partnership between Joe Root and Dawid Malan, England hardly could stamp their authority over Australia at Brisbane who romped to a commendable victory. At first, it was the Australian bowlers who dashed the confidence of the visitors and then the Australian batters ensured, England would need to fight hard to essay a Brisbane classic – it never happened though.
AUSTRALIA WIN #Ashes pic.twitter.com/RWwDOL1kn6
— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) December 11, 2021
On a green top wicket, surprisingly, Root decided to bat first after winning the toss.
Even though, Root won’t be lambasted for life for the decision at the toss in the manner that Len Hutton and Nasser Hussain have in Ashes Tests of the past at the Gabba. Cummins admitted he might have batted too despite a distinct green tinge to the surface and some moisture both in the pitch and in the atmosphere.
But he would have been regretting it after he joined Andrew Flintoff and Andrew Strauss as England captains to make first-innings ducks in Ashes Tests at the Gabba. Root fell victim to a superb piece of bowling from Josh Hazlewood, who now has a stranglehold on the England skipper having claimed him eight times in Test cricket.
The art of the set-up by Josh Hazlewood ? #Ashes pic.twitter.com/Et8zXpo0po
— ESPNcricinfo (@ESPNcricinfo) December 8, 2021
But before that, in the first ball of Day 1 and Ashes 2021-22, Rory Burns lost all bearings of where his stumps were stepping way outside off to expose leg stump to Mitchell Starc who did shape the ball back down the line after it looked to be veering down leg.
Burns also claimed two regrettable records – becoming the second man in history to fall the first ball of an Ashes series while registering his sixth duck of the calendar year, the most of any Test opener.
A golden duck can happen to anybody but you’ve got to wonder about the front foot position here. #ashes pic.twitter.com/f3fGQeIMrd
— simon hughes (@theanalyst) December 8, 2021
Hazlewood then went to work testing the defence of England’s top order and they were found wanting. Dawid Malan nicked a ball he could have easily left alone on length handing Alex Carey his first Test catch, while Root wasn’t allowed to breathe for eight unwavering deliveries before one straightened off the seam to catch his outside edge.
Ben Stokes entered at 3 for 11 needing to produce another Ashes miracle. He was undone after the drinks break by Cummins from around the wicket, squared up by a ball that climbed from a length and Marnus Labuschagne held a very sharp chance diving to his left at third slip.
Haseeb Hameed fought impressively in the face of some outstanding fast bowling. Hameed and Ollie Pope steadied the ship momentarily prior to lunch to prevent any further loss.
Pat Cummins becomes the first captain to take a five-wicket haul in an #Ashes Test since Bob Willis in 1982 ? pic.twitter.com/pF0F1PYnGj
— ICC (@ICC) December 8, 2021
The lunch break did Hameed no favours as Cummins struck again. He went wide of the crease and angled into off stump forcing Hameed to play, a hint of seam movement away caught the edge and again it was well held at slip, this time by vice-captain Steven Smith.
England’s only moment of joy for the day came with the arrival of Jos Buttler.
Buttler and Pope’s positivity changed the atmosphere briefly as Australia turned Nathan Lyon for containment.
The pair shared a 52-run stand and Pope passed 1000 Test runs in the process becoming the sixth-youngest English player to do so.
7 wickets for 89 runs for Pat Cummins – best match figures by an Aussie in his first Test as captain.
Richie Benaud had claimed 7/112 against England also at Brisbane in Dec 1958 in his first Test as captain.#Ashes #Ashes2021 #AusvsEng #AusvEng #EngvAus #EngvsAus
— Mohandas Menon (@mohanstatsman) December 11, 2021
But Starc returned and dismissed Buttler with a superb delivery that threatened to shape in but left him off the seam to catch the outside edge. Cameron Green then claimed his first Test wicket to raucous celebrations after going wicketless all last summer. Pope failed to control a hook shot and Hazlewood ran in from fine leg to complete an outstanding diving catch. It was the first of two for him in the deep as he took another to help Cummins complete his five-wicket haul. Cummins returned to take the last three wickets of the innings as England lost their last five for just 32 runs.
Cummins became the first Australian captain to take a five-wicket haul in an Ashes Test since Richie Benaud in 1962 and the first captain of either nation to do so since Bob Willis at the Gabba in 1982.
A thunderstorm then washed out the early part of the final session.
On Day 2, Travis Head thumped a century in a session to rip the game away from England after they briefly clawed their way back into the contest following another morning of self-destruction.
Head made the joint third-fastest Ashes century, off 85 balls, and became the first to score a Test century in a session at the Gabba, to torch any hopes England had after Australia had lost 4 for 29 in the afternoon to lead by just 48 with five wickets in hand. Australia finished the day with a lead of 196 and three wickets in hand with Head still unbeaten on 112.
A knock from the top shelf by Travis Head #Ashes pic.twitter.com/UYg7FcYDZC
— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) December 10, 2021
Head’s century came on the back of a supreme 156-run stand earlier in the day from David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne, with Warner making an eventful 94, while Labuschagne a masterful 74 in difficult batting conditions to set the game up. Ollie Robinson bowled superbly to take 3 for 48 but limped off with a hamstring injury late in the day while Ben Stokes also battled a leg issue and a host of no-ball problems. Mark Wood also bowled whole-heartedly all day for little reward.
England only have themselves to blame for their predicament. Warner could have been out on 17, 48 and 60.
The absence of James Anderson and Stuart Broad was felt badly.
On Day 3, Root proved why he is the top-ranked Test batter in the world, while Malan continued his love affair with the Australian bowling as England fought their way back from near oblivion to erase most of the 278-run first-innings deficit and keep themselves in the game.
Joe Root in international cricket in 2021:
? 16 matches
? 1688 runs
? Six hundreds, four fifties pic.twitter.com/nqyB6Oy6kQ
— ESPNcricinfo (@ESPNcricinfo) December 10, 2021
The pair have so far put together an unbroken 159-run stand for the third wicket, with Root making 86, while Malan finished the day on 80 to leave England just 58 runs behind with eight second-innings wickets in hand.
They came together at 2 for 61 midway through the day with England 207 runs behind and staring at a possible innings defeat. But they played with fluency and positivity as the Gabba surface flattened into a great batting track and Australia’s celebrated attack showed signs of vulnerability.
Earlier, Travis Head made his second Test 150 to help Australia build their first-innings lead. Head showed England’s bowlers the same contempt on the third morning as he did in the final session on day two. He clubbed Ben Stokes over mid-off and flicked Mark Wood over wide fine-leg for sixes.
Head’s thirst for big scores has increased in the last 14 months and is part of the reason for his return to Test cricket. In his last six first-class centuries since October 2020, including this hundred, he has converted five into 150-plus scores, after having only converted two of his first 12.
The moment Nathan Lyon finally got Test wicket number 400 ? #Ashes pic.twitter.com/gQSCUwAVnP
— ESPNcricinfo (@ESPNcricinfo) December 11, 2021
On Day 4, The power went down at the Gabba and England went down with it as Nathan Lyon finally claimed his 400th Test wicket and Australia claimed a one-nil series lead after another calamitous collapse from the visitors handed the hosts a comfortable nine-wicket win.
Lyon took four wickets on the fourth morning, including that of Dawid Malan’s for his 400th to start the rot prior to the new ball being taken, while Cameron Green claimed the prized scalp of Joe Root for 89 as England lost 8 for 74 to be bowled out for 297 and set Australia just 20 runs to win.
“We’re a team that’s always responded well to situations like this in the recent past,” he said, speaking to BT Sport.
“We’re not scared of a challenge. We’re not scared of fronting up to a difficult result and we’ll just have to make sure that we do exactly that again on this occasion.”
“The toss, I think it was the right decision, but when you’re 40  for 4, it’s very difficult to get yourself back in the game from that position. We have to be better in that first innings and manage those conditions in that situation better moving forward and ultimately as well, we created so many chances with the ball. I thought we were excellent with the ball in hand.”
“I thought our seamers were brilliant, Woody [Mark Wood] in particular, Robbo [Ollie Robinson] as well and [they were] backed up by the other guys. We created a lot of chances but we’ve just got to take them. We want to be better in the field. If we did that the game could have looked very different: we could have been looking at – even with the way that we played this morning – we could have been 150 ahead and it’s a very different context of the game then.”
“Our bowlers were excellent,” he added in the post-match presentation.
“They beat the bat a huge amount of times. They banged out the areas that you want to on this kind of wicket and we’ve just got to be better in the field. We know where we need to get better but I do think the way that we responded in that second innings showed a great amount of character and fight which we will need throughout the rest of this series.”
Root also defended the omission of James Anderson and Stuart Broad and took responsibility for Jack Leach’s chastening figures of 1 for 102 in 13 overs while insisting that Leach could play “a big part” in the rest of the series.
“If anything, that probably falls on me for probably giving him too aggressive fields, too early – not letting him settle in and giving him a bit more of a chance early on. Jack’s a fine spinner. He’s shown over the 20-odd Test matches that he’s played what an instrumental part he can play within this team and I’m sure he’ll play a big part in this series moving forward.”
“It’s easy to look back in hindsight. One thing I will say is that we wanted variation in our attack. We wanted to be able to change the pace of the game and move through different gears throughout the innings. It’s easy to say in hindsight [that Anderson or Broad should have played].”
“With these five-match series, it’s really important that we don’t feel too sorry for ourselves off the back of this. More than anything, we’ve got to remember that there’s a huge amount of cricket to play and we should relish that challenge, relish that opportunity to go out there and get one back on the board for ourselves.”
Note: Input from ESPNcricinfo