The Ashes: England secure series lead with 169-run victory
ENGLAND are in dreamland. Against all expectations they inflicted a crushing defeat on Australia yesterday to take a 1-0 lead in the Ashes.
Whatever was supposed to happen at the start of this series, victory by 169 runs for the home side was not part of many prognostications. But the tourists, labelled as Dad's Army - whose theme tune rang facetiously round the ground courtesy of the Barmy Army trumpeter - have looked jaded in the first Investec Test, failing to respond either to the conditions or the demands of the occasion.
On the other hand, England dealt with them perfectly. The bowling was superb, impeccable in direction and length on a surface that remained slow but was never entirely to be trusted. Australia, chasing a nominal target of 412, were dismissed for 242 shortly after 5pm and if there was some ill-advised shot selection from them, it was also England's reward for constant application of carefully devised strategies.
That Australia will be in the mood to rebound quickly there is no doubt. But with the Second Test beginning at Lord's on Thursday they must react quickly. It looks as though two or three of their players may be rapidly approaching the end of their careers. Suddenly their selection panel begins to seem like a branch of Help the Aged.
England will not be deflected from their aim by what is happening in the opposition ranks. They are a side who in the space of two months have rediscovered the joy of freedom, men unshackled who are enjoying life and living it to the full, which has not often been in the job description of England cricketers lately.
There is a long road ahead in this series and revenge for the 5-0 hammering in Australia 18 months ago will not be straightforwardly gained. Australia had glimmers of openings in this match. Had Brad Haddin caught Joe Root for a duck on the first morning as he should have done England would have been 43 for 4 and staring down the barrel.
As it was, Root went on to make 134 and England 430, which was always likely to be a challenging total. That lapse by Haddin may come to define the series. It may hasten the end of his time as a Test player.
It was plain from the start of the fourth day that England were ready for their day's work. Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad have opened the bowling together in 51 Test matches but rarely can they have been more potent than this. On a warm day with a hint of breeze they had Australia's opening pair groping at thin air time after time.
In the third over, Chris Rogers was spared when Root shelled a chance to his left at third slip off Anderson, which should have been accepted. In the 10th, no damage done, Rogers edged Broad to second slip where Ian Bell took a regulation catch.
England might have had four or five wickets in this period but they were denied and it began to look as if Australia had weathered the storm. They bludgeoned the spin of Moeen Ali, their run-rate climbed to four an over, David Warner and Steve Smith looked increasingly at home and mutterings were just beginning to form about record run-chases.
For the last over before lunch, the captain Alastair Cook turned again to Moeen, whose two overs hitherto had cost 22 runs. By now Warner was playing for the break but going back to a drifter from Moeen he was lbw. Everything was suddenly changed. Lunch could not alter the fact.
Afterwards England earned what their due for earlier endeavours. Australia were undone by the relentlessness of the fast bowling. Barely a delivery was out of place.
Smith, who is vulnerable around the line of fourth and fifth stump, edged one precisely on that location which lifted low to Bell at second slip, and a little later Michael Clarke prodded at one outside off which went to Ben Stokes at point.
Broad was in his pomp again. For more than a year or so, brought low by a body rebelling against the demands imposed on it, he has performed so far below his peak that it has been possible to fear for his future. In the last few months he had implied that all would be well for this series. What truth he spoke.
In his first nine overs yesterday Broad took 3 for 19 and Australia were broken. While Anderson went wicketless, Broad could not have done it without him.
But collectively England have not bowled as incisively as this for perhaps five years. Mark Wood, the chirpy lad from Ashington, is the discovery of the season. He is fast, largely accurate and perpetually menacing. Stokes also has a cutting edge as a fourth seamer.
When Wood took the edge of Adam Voges's bat, Australia were 106 for 5 and had lost four wickets for nine runs in 35 balls. Soon after, Cook held on to a stunning catch at short mid-wicket to send back Haddin, who played a brutal but aerial slog-sweep against Moeen. Perhaps Australia may have to revisit their ploy of hitting him out of the attack if he is to keep taking their wickets.
Wood removed Shane Watson, another whose place is under severe scrutiny, lbw for the 14th time against England. There ensued a brief but forlorn period of resistance led by Mitchell Johnson, who unfurled the long handle in a partnership of 72 with Mitchell Starc.
They were separated by another piece of smart cricket, after the ubiquitous Root was brought into the attack. Starc essayed a forcing short off the back foot, edged hard to Cook at second slip who could only parry - and it was gathered by Adam Lyth at first.
The all-Yorkshire combo struck again to remove Johnson and Moeen ended the affair when Josh Hazlewood drove him to long-off. The ball swirled towards the clouds and as it came to earth Root was under it. It had to be. He is at the heart of this astonishing revival.