If England’s first-day horror show at the Gabba wasn’t enough to satisfy their most ghoulish critics, they found fresh ways of messing things up on the second.
At stumps, Australia had recovered from a spot of relative discomfort at 195 for five to reach 343 for seven, thanks to a remarkable 85-ball hundred from Travis Head. They should win easily from here.
But just as worrying for England was the state of their bowling attack only two days into the series’ potential 25.
England found fresh ways of messing things up on the second day of the Ashes in Brisbane
Australia recovered to reach 343 for seven, thanks to a remarkable hundred from Travis Head
First, it became clear that Ben Stokes’s body had not responded to his return as he would have liked. As early as the first session he was flexing his right shoulder, and soon pulled up after chasing his own misfield to the boundary.
England insisted he was fine, despite obvious evidence to the contrary – and he failed to bowl at all between lunch and tea.
When he was finally brought back, in the final session, he immediately donated three boundaries to Head. Chris Silverwood and Joe Root will need to decide quickly how to manage their star all-rounder. On this evidence, he is more hindrance than help.
Worse was to come when Ollie Robinson, who had performed superbly to take three wickets on his first day with the ball in Ashes cricket, left the field after his 18th over – having slowed to 72mph while rubbing the back of his right thigh. He later said he had gone off ‘for strapping and maintenance’.
Ben Stokes’s body had not responded to his return and he failed to bowl between lunch and tea
Worse was to come when Ollie Robinson began rubbing the back of his right thigh
Then there was Jack Leach, who was targeted early on by David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne – and never recovered.
He did remove Labuschagne for 74, caught off a loose cut by Mark Wood at backward point to end a second-wicket stand of 156. But the respite was brief. By the close, he was nursing figures of 11-0-95-1, and potentially bowled himself out of the series.
He is not a bad bowler: a pre-series Test record of 62 wickets at a fraction under 30 told us that. But, after his mauling at the hands of India’s Rishabh Pant at Chennai in February, he has now been treated with contempt in two of England’s biggest overseas Tests in 2021.
Earlier in the day, a few hundred yards away, Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad were bowling in the Gabba nets as incredulity mounted at the decision to leave them both out. England have traditionally made a hash of it at Brisbane, but this Test is right up there.
Then there was Jack Leach (L) who was targeted early on and in truth never recovered from it
Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad were bowling in the Gabba nets as incredulity mounted at the decision to leave them both out
The morning had begun promisingly enough for Root’s side – even if they had opened their curtains to discover the first day’s gloom replaced by bright, almost taunting, sunshine.
In the day’s sixth over, Robinson had Marcus Harris caught low down by Dawid Malan at third slip for three, and it seemed to be 30 for two when Stokes – with his fourth delivery in Tests since March – nipped one through Warner’s defences.
But replays revealed a big no-ball, handing Warner – 17 at the time – a reprieve. The drama was not over, for it soon emerged that each of Stokes’s first three deliveries had been no-balls, too, but not called by the officials.
For a while, the finger of blame was pointed at third umpire Paul Wilson. Ever since last year, it has been the third official’s job, with the help of technology, to monitor the front line and ease his on-field colleagues’ burden.
After Robinson dismissed Harris, Stokes thought he had bowled David Warner (above)
But replays revealed a big no-ball, handing Warner – on 17 runs at the time – a reprieve
In another twist, however, it transpired that the technology was faulty, obliging the match officials to revert to the old system of checking only the wicket-taking deliveries. And the saga became downright farcical when it turned out that Stokes had overstepped 14 times in his five overs before lunch. Only once was he called on the field.
Meanwhile, Warner – who has a history of making big runs after a no-ball reprieve – and Labuschagne set about turning a steady morning by England into a minor car crash, thrashing 42 off the last five overs of the session as they launched into Leach.
Rory Burns, who is having a Test to forget, then dropped Warner on 48 at second slip in the first over after lunch off Robinson, before Haseeb Hameed missed a shy from close range as Warner, now on 60, lay stranded on the turf.
Either side of tea, though, England fought back. The persevering Wood had Steve Smith caught behind for 12 – his cheapest Ashes dismissal for four years – before Robinson had Warner spooning to Stokes at mid-off for 94, then bowled Cameron Green, who shouldered arms to his first ball.
Rory Burns, who is having a Test to forget, then dropped Warner on 48 at second slip
Haseeb Hameed missed a shy from close range as Warner, now on 60, lay stranded on the turf
When Woakes had Alex Carey caught by Ollie Pope for 12 via a toe-ended pull, Australia were 236 for six, a lead of 89.
But England were starting to come apart at the seams, and Head thrillingly cashed in. Since he had entered the tea interval on nought from zero deliveries, he technically became the first to score a Test hundred in a session at the Gabba, bringing up three figures with a slash through the covers off Woakes.
Root had Cummins caught at leg slip for 12, but England’s chaotic day was summed up when a beamer from Wood struck Head in the jaw via his glove, Malan hobbled off – apparently with a tight hamstring – and Jos Buttler put down an inside edge as Mitchell Starc drove at Wood.
This series is only two days old, but already England look a rabble.
Either side of tea, though, England fought back, but ultimately the side look a rabble
TOP SPIN AT THE TEST
1) Travis Head reached his third Test hundred in just 85 balls – making it the joint third-fastest Ashes century in history.
Only Australia’s Adam Gilchrist (57 balls at Perth in 2006-07) and England’s Gilbert Jessop (76 at The Oval in 1902) have got there more quickly. Australia’s Joe Darling also reached a hundred off 85, at Sydney in 1897-98.
2)Head became the first to score a Test hundred in a session at the Gabba. Although he walked out to bat before tea, he did not face a delivery until after the break.
3) Jack Leach’s figures of 11-0-95-1 fell just short of an unwanted record. Only Pakistan leg-spinner Yasir Shah has bowled more than 10 overs in a Test innings at a higher economy-rate.
At Sydney in 2016-17, he finished with figures of 14-0-124-1 – a rate of 8.85 an over to Leach’s 8.63.
4) David Warner has made a habit of cashing in after being dismissed by a no-ball. On four previous occasions, Australia’s opener had gone on to a Test century after a reprieve, including against England at Melbourne in 2016-17, when he was given a life on 99 after Tom Curran overstepped. On the second day here, he broke the sequence by falling for 94.
5) Steve Smith’s dismissal for 12, caught behind off Mark Wood, was his cheapest in 12 Ashes innings dating back to November 2017 at Adelaide, when he made six.
In between that knock and this one, he had plundered England’s attack for 1,461 runs in two series at an average of 121, a sequence including six hundreds.