x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

First day proved confident Ashes predictions were misplaced

England entered series as favourites and it seems they believed their own hype. Or they were nervous, writes Paul Radley.

England's James Anderson, centre, celebrates after bowling out Australia's captain Michael Clarke.
England's James Anderson, centre, celebrates after bowling out Australia's captain Michael Clarke.

What is it with the English? They can hold all the aces, plus have a few kings stuffed up their sleeves just for safe keeping, yet still talk themselves into a battle of wills with an opponent they know is only playing with threes and fours.

Chris Broad, a former Ashes winner from the 1980s with England turned ICC match referee and celebrity father to Stuart, cut through the optimism on a frenzied morning of hype on Wednesday.

"This is an Australian sports team, and they never lie down," Broad Sr said in an early morning interview on Sky News ahead of the first day of the 2013 Ashes.

Had he not just seen the rugby? That particular Australian team were entirely supine after being pummelled by the British & Irish Lions.

Or the tennis? Where were the Aussies when Andy Murray was dealing out the treatment to the rest of the competition in winning Wimbledon 77 short years since the last time a Brit managed it? Conspicuous by their absence, that's where.

But, still. Never underestimate the Australians. And never write off the Germans. Two maxims that English sport lives – and often dies – by.

Granted, it was the Welsh who did most of the legwork in the rugby. And Murray, Scotland's finest, probably cares about the England cricket team as much as he does the nation's football team. Which is to say, not very much.

But this is the English cricket team. There should at least be a few South Africans to fall back on.

Playing against the worst Ashes touring squad in recent memory, there should never have been any reason to worry.

Yet that is what they do best: worry. Even when the sun is shining and all is well with the world, they look around corners trying to find reasons for concern, and are never happier than when they find an omen to make themselves nervous.

Like the one about the last time the Lions won a rugby series against the Wallabies, back in 1989. It coincided with an Australian cricket team arriving in the UK with the label of being one of the worst to have competed for the Ashes. Yet the touring cricketers went on to win that series 4-0.

So, by that measure, it must mean impending doom for this one then? By the looks of the way England batted on Wednesday, that was entirely feasible.

Judged by the nature of their stroke play, they were either asphyxiated by the tension or entirely overconfident – one of the two.

Were England right to be worried by what they were confronted with? Not really. Australia's bowlers – whatever testimonies their former coach Mickey Arthur had given them before being shown the door – were no better than adequate.

At times, they were not even that good. When James Pattinson sent down the portentous first ball of the Ashes, it was a lolloping, looping wide.

It brought to mind Steve Harmison's opening salvo in the 2006/07 series in Australia, which famously ended in the hands of Andrew Flintoff at second slip. That series ended in a cleansweep. Just saying.

Yet England still contrived to undermine themselves. Jonathan Trott, who top scored, castled himself when he dragged a wide ball onto his stumps while attempting a flashing cover drive.

The shot was so out of character, the normally stoic Trott might as well have been doing stand-up dressed as Roadrunner while he was at it.

Not long after that, Matt Prior slapped a wide ball to cover. Wide meaning, only just able to reach. England were imploding in a way they were not supposed to, and were bowled out within 59 overs.

Happily for the home side, it did not take long for the Australians to give a reminder as to quite why they are so lowly regarded.

The way they batted, faced with an admittedly highly-skilled new-ball attack of James Anderson and Steven Finn in helping conditions, at first seemed to shout: what were you thinking? You were right to think we are useless.

And yet, because of the way England batted, Australia, thanks to an unlikely cameo by Steve Smith late in the day, are still clinging on.

Still, at least we can write off the Germans. They are never going to win the Ashes.

pradley@thenational.ae

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