A wave of heady optimism is now sweeping English cricket after one of the most incredible, unexpected and scintillating performances in recent years, as Alastair Cook’s boys destroyed their perennial nemeses over four wonderful days of Test match cricket. After slowly seizing hold of the initiative on the afternoon of the first day, England never let it slip, and slowly tightened their grip on the contest to the point where they simply suffocated the life out of this ageing Australian unit.
Looking back on this emphatic statement of intent from the hosts to their much-vaunted opposition, it will no doubt be suggested by many that the real tipping point of the match came as early as mid-morning of the first day, when Brad Haddin dropped Joe Root when the latter had yet to open his account. If the 37 year old veteran had caught Root England would have been 40-4 and in danger of capitulating. As it was, Root went on to make a classy, ice-cool 134, and England recovered from their usual top-order failings to make 430. While that was by no means a monumental score on what was at that point still a very good wicket, the initiative was by now entirely with England.
Root was not the only batsman to play an important innings for the Three Lions, with Stokes, Ballance and Moeen Ali all playing vital supporting acts. These young batsmen all played with no fear and looked to actively take on Mitchell Johnson and co, which is no mean feat bearing in mind the nightmares he caused them 18 months ago. All this meant that by the time the Australian innings got under way, the feeling of positivity around the team was almost palpable.
Despite the usual breezy start from the opposition openers in the usual gung-ho Aussie manner, it was clear to all present that England’s bowlers were always in the game, and performing admirably. Stuart Broad was always in the game, bowling a beautiful length that always demanded defence, and the others were managing to restrict scoring despite the placid nature of the pitch. It was on the third morning when England really managed to wrestle total control of the game away from the visitors, starting when a combined bowling effort and excellent catching meant the last five Australian first innings wickets fell for 50 runs, and England had a lead of 122.
If there were any worries before England’s second innings that this aggressive approach could not last with the added pressure of now being in command of the game, they were dispelled by a swashbuckling partnership between Joe Root (him again) and Ian Bell, who made a very welcome return to form with an attacking 60. Despite losing wickets regularly as most of the lower order players tried to smack every ball out of the ground, they managed to make enough runs to set the visitors a thoroughly imposing total of 412.
Just like the first innings, the bowling in the Australian run-chase and the pressure applied was a combined effort. James Anderson and Broad bowled brilliantly with the new ball, Mark Wood bowled with the same pace as he’s shown regularly, and Moeen Ali put forward his strong credentials to be the first choice spinner with several key wickets at important times. When Ali invited the last remaining batsman to slog at him and Joe Root took a simple high catch in front of the jubilant mass of England supporters, the celebrations could begin in earnest. Even now the match seems slightly unreal; pinching oneself is the only way to confirm that yes, it did happen and yes, England really are 1-0 up in the Ashes.
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