At the start of play of the first day of the First Test in this Ashes series between Australia and England, if you had said to an Australian supporter that at stumps, you can have bowled England out for 215, and Australia would be 4/75, then I reckon eight out of ten surveyed would have said "I'll take that". Not because Australia would be in the dominant position (though if Michael Clarke had been one of the not out batsmen, you would almost consider yourself to be on even ground), but because they would have made a positive start in bowling out the English batting line-up, and because the batting scorecard for Australia wouldn't have been completely unexpected.
England's line-up was as expected, while Australia surprised most by handing 19 year old Ashton Agar his debut with cap number 434 in front of the incumbent spinner Nathan Lyon. Agar has impressed all who have seen him, with his tall frame bowling left arm orthodox away from the right hand batsmen said to have been the tipping point in his favour. Lyon took nine wickets in his final Test appearance, and is also the orator of the team victory song. That may not be a problem in the interim, but what it will have done for Lyon's confidence if he is selected sometime in July or August is anyone's guess. His must now be a troubled mindset.
Steve Smith and Ed Cowan were both preferred to the eternally overlooked Usman Khawaja who must be beginning to wonder what he has said to be constantly in this position. Still, with Dave Warner being banished to the veldt for batting practice on the Australia A tour, "Uzzy" becomes the only back up batsman left in the squad should a place become available. It may be that his wait is almost over.
Having lost the toss, Australia's bowlers were given the first opportunity to attack, and found it abnormally difficult to bowl within a line and length. Returning keeper Brad Haddin was made to earn his increased pay, constantly diving full length both in front of slips and down leg side to try and reel in the misdirected thunderbolts from his bowlers. James Pattinson recovered best, and bowled a solid first spell which snared him the vital wicket of Alistair Cook. Mitchell Starc again appeared unable to bowl his most dangerous delivery, the in ducking yorker to the right hander, and before long had one again reverted to coming around the wicket, thus deflating every advantage he has of being a left-armer. Surely one day he will learn.
Peter Siddle, whose form has been average, and looked to be a long way back in line behind Ryan Harris and Jackson Bird, was retained by the selectors for the Test, he proceeded to bowl a first spell reminiscent of former bowlers like Chris Matthews and Glenn Trimble, as he was incapable of keeping the ball off Jonathan Trott's pads, and he was consistently punished. After four overs he was relieved, and one could only imagine how much better it would have been having either Harris or Bird backing up the opening bowlers.
However, Clarke kept his faith and swung Siddle around to the other end, where he immediately beat Joe Root for pace and length in up-Rooting his off stump. All of a sudden, there was more control, and - by-God - swing!! he kept running in hard, still throwing in the odd boundary ball, but then almost miraculously picking up wickets. he snared Pietersen straight after lunch, and Trott to a wide ball that he played on just before drinks. Trott was furious, but what this dismissal proved again is that he is not as comfortable with the ball outside off stump. This is the line that Australia's bowlers must only deal with to Trott for the next five months if they are to curb his run scoring. It is an obvious ploy, but he was handed 40 runs on the first day through thoughtless bowling. With better directional bowling, his task will be a whole lot tougher than it was on the first day.
Siddle meanwhile was not done yet, finally getting Bell to edge one to slip, and picking up Prior with a half-tracker that he bunted to short forward point. After the most inglorious start, suddenly Siddle had five of the first six wickets to fall, and was being hailed by the commentators in all media. It is not the first time Siddle has elicited memories and comparison to another fiery Victorian, Merv Hughes. Hughes often bowled some of the most rubbish spells of bowling in Tests, but then managed to snare a vital wicket when it was most needed, often with a full toss or a half tracker or a wide delivery. His career is now often hailed as courageous and brutal, it being mired in the mists of time and with many people either too young to remember, or old enough to forgive. Siddle was the epitome of Merv Hughes today, and though his five wickets were vital for Australia again today, one can't help wondering how much luck can sometimes play in the game of cricket.
Australia's batting woes continued, not without a hint of misfortune. Shane Watson again failed, leaving open the question of his future in the team. He also reportedly has yet another strain and will likely not bowl in the second innings, which again creates concerns about his durability and place in the team. Ed Cowan, who probably owes his place in this team to his former opening partner being suspended for a month, edged his first wide delivery behind. He had spent all day going back and forth from the field, reportedly being ill. His first day will not improve how he feels, illness or not. While this was going on. Simon Katich, the opener dismissed from the Australian team because he was considered to be to old and superfluous, knocked up a simple double century in County cricket. One wonders what may have happened had he still been in this team.
Michael Clarke copped a ripper, a ball that would probably have accounted for any batsmen past or present. Jimmy Anderson does produce such pearlers, and it was (for Australia) most unfortunate that he directed this one at the captain. It visibly lifted the England team, and they would have been ecstatic and believing they could almost account for the whole innings that evening.
Steve Smith and Chris Rogers showed their mettle, seeing off the immediate threat and then looking to build a partnership. Smith especially carried on his recent good form, and appeared confident and solid. When Rogers was adjudged LBW off Anderson, coming round the wicket and angling down leg side, it felt like a 50/50 decision, and one where the batsmen did not receive the benefit of the doubt. When reviewed, Hawkeye showed it clipping the stump, which is good enough if the umpire is in the affirmative. There is no real problem with that, but you feel that perhaps the home crowd was rewarded in this instance, where the opposing team could feel aggrieved.
With stumps pulled, England would feel they have restored the order after being dismissed cheaply. Australia would feel they have let their advantage slip, but would still feel they can at least finish on parity when the first innings is completed. Smith and Hughes have been touted as the future of Australia's batting for three or four years. Tonight they have the opportunity to prove why. Brad Haddin will be itching to impress with the bat on his return to the team. The bowlers did well with the bat in India, and they will probably have to do so again here. It all adds up to another fascinating day's play coming up on Day 2, with both team's looking to push home an advantage.