WHEN sport comes along, major sport that is, international contests, everything else is pushed to the background in Australia.
And you can’t get bigger than the Ashes, the contest for cricket supremacy between Australia and England. There is a lot of history which gives the contest its importance: for example, Australia is a former convict colony of Britain and that rankles a lot, even to this day.
This time around, it may not be the most even of contests, given that Australia is comparatively weak on paper and based on its most recent outings against other countries.
But as the opening day showed, there are so many factors at play when the Ashes are involved that a contest can suddenly turn into one that is surprisingly even.
At Trent Bridge, England fell for a paltry 215, a nervous effort on a wicket that was no minefield. Few seemed inclined to stay and build an innings, perhaps something that has come about due to the impact the shorter forms of cricket have had on today’s batsmen.
A surprising proportion of that total came in boundaries, 38 of them. That means 152 runs were scored in boundaries and only 63 in ones, twos and threes. Whatever happened to rotating the strike in order to wear down the bowling?
Australia bowled well, but not well enough to keep England to that total. Once again, there was a lot of nervousness on display, with James Pattinson bowling a wide to open the proceedings. Peter Siddle bowled well to take five wickets.
But Australia’s batting was its normal self and fell away to 53 for four before Steve Smith and Phillip Hughes held on to take the side to stumps without further loss. The captain, Michael Clarke, fell to a peach of a delivery from James Anderson, which beat his forward defence stroke and then shaved the outside of off-stump. Australia is still 140 behind on a track that aids the bowlers.
If things continue this, there will be no need for a fifth day. And if the entire fourth day is taken up, it would be surprising.
There are lots of cracks on the wicket which will widen as the Test progresses and enable the English spinner Graeme Swann to play a decisive role when Australia bats a second time. He got plenty of turn on day one itself.
There is a lot of cricket to be played between the two sides before the year ends – four more Tests after this one in England and five during the Australian summer. Whether it will leave one feeling that was too much of mediocrity on display or whether the series will be close is open to question.