Ashes: ducks for Burns and Root in England’s Australian nightmare
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hen it comes to Ashes Tests in Brisbane, Australians have two special moments of gaiety at the expense of the British.
The first came in 2002/03, when Nasser Hussain confidently declared ‘we’ll have a bowl’ after winning the draw. Australia had 339 on the board by the time England took their second wicket, made 492 and won by 384 points. This set the tone for a series that England lost 4-1, with the victory in a rubber death in Sydney.
The second came four years later, when Steve Harmison sent the first ball of the series into the hands of his captain, Andrew Flintoff, who was not the wicket keeper but the second slip. Australia made 602 for nine declared, won the game by 277 points and the series 5-0.
Just over an hour after the start of the opening round of this edition of a great cricket rivalry, the two had been relegated to ancient history. England had overcome her own infamy.
Perhaps haunted by Hussain’s experience, or perhaps seeking to take the alpha approach, Joe Root chose to strike on a green, under-prepared surface first – blame the weather, not the ground staff. – under a cloudy sky. Not only that, but England entered without James Anderson or Stuart Broad for the first time in the Ashes since 2006, 37 appearances ago.
It was a courageous call. An hour later, as Root set off for a duck with England 11 for three, it seemed misguided. Soon after, Ben Stokes was gone too, it was crazy. Root had exposed his raw baton order to sensational Australian setters. It was a procession, and England gave way to longing for the rain which had been promised to her.
Perhaps Harmison, in the studio with BT Sport, was the only Englishman to breathe a sigh of relief. At least he was able to smile about his wide, the only material – if not mental – cost to England was a single run.
There was no smile for Rory Burns, as he walked away shaking his head, watching the big screen reruns of his first bullet nightmare. Mitchell Starc’s delivery was complete and flat. Burns’ front foot went way too far offside; the bullet tipped back and slammed into his leg stump.
It was Burns’ sixth duck of the year, a record for an England opener. He had become the first man returned to the first ball in an Ashes series since Stan Worthington on that same pitch 85 years ago. Worthington played the ball – from Ernie McCormick – just as badly, passing a short into the hands of the keeper. It’s fair to say that Australians in 2021 celebrated a little more wildly than their 1936 counterparts.
It was a stunning start to Australia’s new era under the command of Pat Cummins. The solid bullets on the leg stump are Burns’ bread and butter, even though he’s a limited player. Starc is an unpredictable pitcher, so you never know if that was the ball he was looking for. No Australian cares.
This moment ensured that, in the eyes of the English, every ball would be an experience of immense discomfort, and their hitters did little to help.
Josh Hazlewood took the next two wickets. Dawid Malan was stuck in the crease and caught by new keeper Alex Carey as he could have left the ball, then Hazlewood found the perfect delivery to Root, who moved closer to the keeper. Cummins, who sacked Root seven times in the cricket test, had gone bowling against the England captain. Hazlewood got it for the eighth time in testing before Cummins even had a chance.
Root’s duck was his first of his golden year. But it was the 45th on his team and – surprisingly – he had become the 19th Englishman to do so in test cricket this year. Their record 54 (1998) is in sight.
Cummins soon had his first wicket as captain, Stokes, who had looked in good shape in his first test since March. He was squared too, and caught up on the third slip. The pitch was slow, but lively. Australia were relentless, with Hazlewood and Cummins never playing a bad ball, and Starc finding miracle balls.
Ollie Pope, who beat Jonny Bairstow in sixth place, joined puzzled spectator Haseeb Hameed in the crease. The youngsters doubled the score and made it to lunch, on 59 for four, but it had been a deeply uncomfortable session that will long be remembered in Australia.
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