x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Don't read much into this start

Much symbolism is always placed on the first delivery of an Ashes series. Stephen Harmison was said to have set the tone for England's 2005 glory with his fiery initial salvo to Justin Langer.

Much symbolism is always placed on the first delivery of an Ashes series. Stephen Harmison was said to have set the tone for England's 2005 glory with his fiery initial salvo to Justin Langer. The opposite was the case when, a year-and-a-half later, he sent the opening exchange of the rematch straight into the hands of his best friend, Andrew Flintoff, at second slip. Cue a dismal English slide towards a whitewash.

This time it barely merited note, as the England captain, Andrew Strauss, let a Mitchell Johnson loosener drift harmlessly past his off-stump and into the gloves of Brad Haddin at 11am local time yesterday. If anything could be read into it, it possibly suggested a conservative mindset from the batsman. Had it been Michael Slater, the dashing former Australia opener, at the wicket, there is a fair chance the ball would have disappeared to the cover fence. But that is tenuous.

More striking was the amorous, pre-delivery bear-hug Johnson received from Peter Siddle, his fast-bowling colleague, who was stationed beside him at mid-off. This was something new for the Ashes, perhaps fitting the tone of the letter written to Australia's players, requesting they tone down their in-your-face hostility towards opposition players. When Jim Laker took 19 wickets to win the 1956 Old Trafford Test for England, a firm handshake was the height of affection he received from his colleagues.

How times have changed. Now Manchester is not even on the roster of venues. England have kicked off a home Test series by playing in Wales. And before the start, a love-in between one player - Johnson - with a tongue stud and another who has a Southern Cross tattoo emblazoned across his back. Oh, for a Merv Hughes or Dennis Lillee of long ago. @Email:pradley@thenational.ae