By David de Winter – Sports Editor
Well I did not see that coming. If you had told me that England would win the first Ashes Test at Cardiff, and at a canter, I would have questioned your sanity and probably referred you to a psychiatrist. In winning by the emphatic margin of 169 runs, England have sent a strong message to Australia that they won’t just roll over and capitulate like they did 18 months ago down-under.
Yet it was not so much the margin of victory but the manner in which it was achieved that astonished me the most. England beat Australia at their own game. Both teams played series in the Caribbean in recent months; Australia slaughtered the West Indies, England drew 1-1 playing uninspiring cricket against a distinctly average team.
After the win in Cardiff, captain Alastair Cook talked about changing the team’s mind-set and approach to Test cricket to a more positive one. Indeed they turned the tables on the Australians, scoring at over 4 runs per over in both innings whilst the Baggy Greens’ rate hovered around 3.5 per over. This undoubtedly shows the positive influence of new coach Trevor Bayliss, following on from Paul Fabrace’s sterling work with the one-day side in the series against New Zealand.
All the talk before the Ashes was about England’s selection issues. Moeen Ali or Adil Rashid? Both Gary Ballance and Ian Bell were out of form and there was pressure on the opening pair of captain Alastair Cook and relative international novice Adam Lyth. Fast forward a week and it is the Australians who are in relative turmoil.
They came into this series with a very settled line-up. The pace trio of Mitchells Johnson and Starc and Josh Hazelwood had just terrorised West Indies’ batsmen, their vice-captain Steve Smith was (somehow) officially the best batsman in the world and Chris Rogers was coming off the back of six consecutive scores of 50 or more in Tests.
How the tide has turned. Now there is a debate raging about Shane Watson’s place (rumours are abound that he is to be replaced by Mitchell Marsh), veteran wicket-keeper Brad Haddin has made himself unavailable for the Lord’s Test and Starc is a serious injury doubt.
England therefore need to go for the jugular. They have Australians on the ropes and they need to take advantage and land a potentially knockout blow. England are playing good cricket and the positive thing is that almost every member of the team contributed in Cardiff. There were a few negatives – Jos Buttler’s dismissal in the first innings was careless at best, and the team was possibly slightly too cavalier in the second innings.
However, the overall performance was exceptional. England were particularly impressive at bowling to their plans and, unlike Australia, gave away precious few four balls. They have an impressive recent record at Lord’s and must use the ground’s infamous slope to their advantage by pitching the ball up. England have a wonderful opportunity to take an commanding lead in this Ashes series and one that could be decisive if they pass it up.