Joe Root spoke of harsh lessons learned but remained unrepentant over England’s selection and strategy after a harrowing nine-wicket defeat at the Gabba that leaves his side needing to overcome 67 years of history in Australia.
Only once before have England overcome a 1-0 deficit to win an away Ashes series – the 3-1 victory in 1954-55 when Frank Tyson terrorised the hosts – and thus a tour that has supposedly had two years of planning behind it already appears in jeopardy.
Bowled out for 297 on the fourth morning after a tepid collapse of eight for 77 in 30.1 overs, Root could only look on enviously as Australia knocked off a lowly target of 20 to hand Pat Cummins a victory in his first Test as captain.
“There are harsh lessons that we’ve learned throughout this Test match,” admitted Root, having earlier fallen 11 runs short of his first Ashes century away from home. “Credit to Australia, they’ve taken every chance that’s come their way and I can’t say the same about ourselves.”
Much went back to the first morning, when Root opted to bat at the toss despite cloud cover and grass on the pitch, only to see four wickets fall in the first hour and a lowly total of 147 result. The absence of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad for the first time in five years became a running theme, with the former not 100% ready after a sparse buildup and the latter overlooked in favour of the heavily punished spin of Jack Leach.
“I think batting first was the right decision,” said Root, who suffered a first-innings duck. “Being 40 for four makes it look like that’s not the case. If we had got even 250 in that first innings and the game looks very different altogether.
“In terms of selection, I wanted a balanced attack. I wanted to be able to change the momentum of the game and we went with the spinner. Credit to Australia, they took on Leachy. He had to bowl on that wicket at its worst and I was slightly too aggressive with his fields early on. It made it very difficult for him.”
Ollie Robinson, Mark Wood and Chris Woakes held their own as the three frontline seamers chosen, even if Leach was pounded for 102 runs in 13 overs and Ben Stokes struggled with both overstepping and some physical strains on his return from a four-month absence.
Anderson and Broad will push for recalls come the pink ball second Test in Adelaide, however, the veteran pair’s daily training sessions having been a regular feature of the TV coverage in Australia and the subject of much debate.
Ultimately the result came down to the limp batting – something only briefly arrested when Root and Malan put on 162 the second innings – a dropped catch of David Warner halfway through his innings of 94 and two missed run out chances.
“We’re in the series, we’ve not [much preparation] going into it, so we’ll be better for it.” Root said. Looking forward to the second Test beginning at 4am GMT on Thursday, he added: “We’ve got something to work on for guys who haven’t experienced Ashes cricket before, they know what’s coming now and the challenge they face. We have to be ready. Sometimes the game coming around straight away is what you need, to get back out there and put things right.”
Though dominant for all but two of the nine-and-a-bit sessions, Australia did not emerge unscathed. Warner was unable to bat during the run chase after being struck in the ribs by a short ball from Stokes on day two, while Josh Hazlewood was restricted to six overs on the final day, that were down on pace, due to a possible side issue.
Yet, with Travis Head’s 152 from No 5 vindicating his selection, Nathan Lyon ending a near year-long wait for his 400th Test wicket and Cummins beginning his captaincy with a five-wicket haul and seven victims in the match, the hosts are clearly in the ascendancy. Cummins said: “Someone was smiling over me. I’m really proud of everyone. I thought it was a really complete performance.”
Meanwhile, Cricket Australia confirmed on Saturday that the fifth Test which begins on 14 January will now be a second day-night pink ball affair staged in Hobart, Tasmania, after West Australia’s hard border saw the fixture moved away from Perth last week.