A day of sporting disaster? The nation that invented football may have been humiliated in the voting to host the World Cup, but on the cricket field England emerged triumphant.
Their cricketers made a sensational start to the Second Ashes Test, bowling Australia out for 245 on the first day in Adelaide. The history of English cricket tells us that even a hint of hubris is almost always followed by nemesis, but England appeared to have a tremendous chance of seizing the advantage in the five-Test series.
There was a collective groan when captain Andrew Strauss lost the toss, condemning his team to what looked like two days in the field trying to contain Australia on what is traditionally one of the world’s best batting pitches.
The temperature was already nudging 35C (95F). “This isn’t hot,” one local explained, “but it might be by tomorrow.” It would have been undignified for any Englishman in Adelaide to complain about the heat, given the weather back home. But within minutes no Pom was complaining about anything.
Australia lost two wickets in the first over (more than England lost in the last two days in the opening match in Brisbane), and moments later Australia were in trauma at two for three.
Though, inevitably, they made some kind of recovery, the Aussies never gained any measure of control, and England polished off the innings when the new ball was taken before the close.
This was a performance beyond England’s wildest dreams when the day seemed to promise them nothing but blood, toil, tears, and sweat, especially sweat.
But Australia were intent on being helpful. In the first over, their openers got into a fearful tangle: Simon Katich was run out without facing a ball – a diamond duck, some call it. In that sense his captain, Ricky Ponting, did better. His was a more traditional golden duck: out first ball when he nudged a low catch to second slip. He was three minutes into his celebratory 150th Test match.
Moments later, Michael Clarke followed him to the pavilion. Michael Hussey, Australia’s hero at Brisbane, stayed nearly all day before falling seven short of what would have been his third successive Ashes hundred. But on what looked like a traditional belting Adelaide wicket, the batsmen never settled. At intervals through the day there were strange lapses – Marcus North’s weird flick to the wicketkeeper was typical. And there was another daft run-out near the end, a sign of a once mighty team becoming flappable as well as well as fallible.
Sometimes cricket pitches have demons that are not obvious to the naked eye: there was a bit of early movement for James Anderson, now the undisputed leader of England’s pace attack; there was some turn for Graeme Swann, who recovered much of his confidence. Sometimes batting errors can be so contagious that they can spread to the opposition next day. But it is hard to offer any coherent explanation for events on a day when Australia would have expected a minimum 400 … except that they performed badly, England performed determinedly, and the little bits of luck that kept going against them in Brisbane this time went their way.
The crowd, 38,615, was the highest for a Test match in Adelaide in 56 years. It may be lower on Saturday since a good many Poms will be nursing sunburn. Whatever happens next, one result is immutable: England may have won only two votes in their bid for the 2018 World Cup; but Australia, bidding for 2022, got just one.
SECOND ASHES TEST (Adelaide): Australia 245 (M.J. Hussey 93, B.J. Haddin 56, S.R. Watson 51; J.M. Anderson four for 51) England 1 for 0. Five-Test series stands at 0-0.