Brisbane Test: The Talking Points

The Ashes is the most keenly anticipated series of the international calendar and the first Test in Brisbane lived up to its billing. Both sides showed a lot of grit, application and inexperienced players stepped up to the fore. Australia showed professionalism on the last two days and won the Test by 10 wickets. We take a look at the Talking Points from the Brisbane Test from the neutrals’ eye:
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1. The New Boys From Both Sides Show Series-Defining Promise

When both the squads were announced, eyes were raised on the number of inexperienced players England had selected for this tour. Australia had a debutant of their own, Cameron Bancroft, himself under scrutiny as he replaced Matt Renshaw. After the First Test, these new and inexperienced players stepped up for their sides in different situations. Talking about England, their first innings performance would have given them a lot of hope for the upcoming games. Mark Stoneman, James Vince and Dawid Malan, a collective Test experience of 15 matches before this one, all hit half centuries. Stoneman hit a very gritty and patient 159-ball 53, Vince top scored with a fluent 179-ball 83, also his highest Test score and Malan too impressed with a 130-ball 56.

When Alastair Cook was dismissed in the third over itself, England feared the worst and all the pre-match talk looked set to come to fruition, before Vince and Stoneman came together to stitch a partnership of 125 for the second wicket. Bancroft on the other hand, did not have a memorable first Test innings but it was in the second innings he particularly impressed. Chasing 170 to win, Bancroft ensured he held up his end and allowed his partner David Warner to go on his attacking way. An unbeaten 182-ball 82, the highest fourth innigs score by an Australian debutant, saw him give respect to England’s new-ball attack before he severely attacked the other bowlers. These performances are great for both sides and odes well for the rest of the series given all the pre-match talk. These were series-defining starts from both sets of the new boys.
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2. England’s Twin Collapses Have Raised Serious Alarms

When England reached 246/4 in their first innings, hopes of posting a 400+ score weren’t too far fetched. It is during this juncture of the second morning when England pressed the panic button. Malan top-edged a short ball from Mitchell Starc, followed by a twin Nathan Lyon strike in the space of four balls of Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes meant England slipped to 250/7. The last three wickets added 52 runs but losing the last six wickets for just 56 runs was a serious collapse, especially when Brisbane has not been a happy hunting ground for literally any side in the past 29 years.

During the second innings also when England were 155/5, leading by 129 and with Ali and Jonny Bairstow batting well, a target of around 250 was on the cards. Instead, England collapsed again to be bowled out for just 195, losing the last five wickets for just 50 runs. Now these two instances within the same Test match are alarming. England had the opportunity to reign in the advantage in the first innings, and an opportunity to give their bowlers a decent target to bowl with. They failed on both counts. This was just an extension.

They suffered collapses in the practice games too. They lost five wickets for 22 runs and seven wickets for 47 runs against Cricket Australia XI in Adelaide and five wickets for 38 runs in Townsville against the same opponent. In a series so unforgiving and emotional, these collapses just cannot be accepted especially when you are not the favourite.
Embed from Getty Images3. Steven Smith Continues To Prove Why He Is The Best In Tests

Long gone are the days when a good technique guaranteed success. Unorthodox players can just be as successful as their orthodox counterparts. The flag-bearer Australian skipper Steven Smith, continues to dominate Test Cricket. Coming in a delicate situation where his side were 30/2 and then 76/4, Smith showed how big a batsman he really is. Usually a very fluent and free flowing batsman, Smith showed he is just as effective when a patient, testing and gritty innings is required of him. He did just that in the Brisbane Test. He would share a 99-run partnership with Shaun Marsh for the fifth wicket, and when they were reduced to 209/7 and staring at conceding a lead, he put on a 76-run partnership with Pat Cummins for the eighth wicket. Smith finished unbeaten on 141 off 326 balls, his slowest Test hundred yet.

His numbers are humongous. 21 hundreds in just 57 Tests, 13 have come as captain in just 48 innings. He averages 72.46 as captain, his conversion rate is exactly 50%, means he converts every second half century into a hundred. He takes just five innings per hundred in Tests, the best amongst his peers, The Rest of the Esteemed “Fab Four”. There is no doubt that he is currently the Best Test Batsman in the World and he gave arguably his best performance yet in the biggest series and a delicate situation, The Ashes.
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4. England’s Bowling Is Still Far Off From Australia

An important part of the Brisbane Test was the bowling performances of both sides. While England arguably boast the best new-ball attack in James Anderson and Stuart Broad, the bowlers following them lack the standards set by their Aussie counterparts. This gap was clearly evident in how these sides bowled. England went in with four specialist pacers and Moeen Ali as their specialist spinner. Australia went in with three pacers and Lyon as their spinner. While it was an even contest between the pairs of Anderson-Broad and Starc-Hazlewood, the rest of the battle were convincingly won by Australia. Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon cumulatively took match figures of 102.4-28-253-9. In comparison, the pair of Chris Woakes, Jake Ball, Moeen Ali and Joe Root registered 105.3-12-352-5 cumulatively.

When it comes to winning Test matches, bowlers need to hunt in packs. It is criminal to expect Anderson and Broad would take all 20 wickets and keep the runs down simultaneously. With Australia, they never let England take a breather. It was attacking bowling with Nathan Lyon impressing the most right from ball one. If England are to make a comeback in the series, their bowlers, except Anderson and Broad, need to step up big time.
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5. Starc And Hazlewood Were Effective But Not At Their Best

The one man discussed at length before the Ashes begun was pacer Mitchell Starc. He did not have his best performance by any stretch of imagination but if he could rack up match figures of 44-5-128-6 by not being at his best, this is a serious warning to England when Starc does operate at his best. Starc looked jaded at times, out of rhythm on a few occasions but it was his strike of Malan in the first innings that triggered the English collapse. He was also instrumental in the second innings collapse, a period in which England lost four wickets for ten runs. If and when Starc puts in a 10/10 performance, England could have to digest a thrashing.

Starc’s partner Josh Hazlewood wasn’t particularly at his best as well but was very effective especially in the second innings, when he got the prized wickets of Cook, Vince and Root. He was economical which meant England could not score much of him even though he did not perform at the peak of his powers. These are danger signs for England.

With the First Brisbane Test now done and dusted, attention will shift to the Pink Ball Test in Adelaide, perhaps England’s most realistic chance of notching up a win. For the first three days, the Brisbane Test looked in the balance before England surrendered rather easily and succumbing to a 10-wicket loss and they had majorly only themselves to blame. Can England claw back in Adelaide? They would need to improve massively.

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