Australia's crucial 12-year first banishes demons of Ashes past

Not since a teenaged Pat Cummins made his debut for Australia has the team accomplished what they did in the first Test at Edgbaston.

Nathan Lyon and Pat Cummins pump their fists after winning the first Ashes Test.

It was somewhat poetic that Pat Cummins was the man to hit the winning runs for Australia in their historic first Test win to take a 1-0 lead in the Ashes. It's been 12 years since any Aussie Test team has managed to chase down a second innings total of more than 250 runs - a feat they accomplished despite England bowler Ollie Robinson declaring earlier that the visitors had 'three number 11s'.

Robinson was made to eat those words, not for the first time in the Edgbaston Test, as Cummins and Nathan Lyon combined for a brilliant 55-run partnership to steal victory in the face of a bold declaration from the home side late on day four. The last time Australia successfully hunted down a second innings target of more than 250 runs came against South Africa inn 2011.

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Fittingly, it was Cummins in his Test debut who hit the winning runs, accompanied by Mitchell Johnson, who added 40 - while Usman Khawaja had added 65 batting at number 3. Since that victory in Johannesburg, the Aussies had lost 20 Tests and tied another two when facing a large second innings chase.

The victory at Edgbaston was the kind that would provide a major mental boost to the visitors, former England captain Alastair Cook said. Australia's weaknesses in the second innings, as well as a number of matches lost from a strong position, notably in the 2019 Ashes series at Headingley, had been somewhat of a recurring theme until their series opening win in 2023.

“There have been a few occasions where Australia have bottled close games. You think back to Headingley in 2019 as an example of that,” Cook had said before play started on day five.

“So if they do get the 170-odd runs to win here they’ll take lot mentally from that. Otherwise the momentum will be hard to turn.”

Pat Cummins admits spectre of Headlingley 2019 hung over first Test

Speaking after the match, Cummins said there was no doubt the victory would come as a major confidence boost, particularly in the memorable loss at Headingley, which was stirred by now England captain Ben Stokes and Jack Leach. Seven of Australia's 11 in the first Test had featured in the famous defeat.

"Yeah, I'd be lying if I said it didn't," Cummins said if the 2019 defeat had played on the minds of Australia. "We've been on the other side of it last series … it's one of those ones when you're on the other side of it, really hurts (and) feels like one that got away.

"A lot of those guys were there at Headingley. So to feel like we clinched one that was out of our grasp there for a little while is pretty satisfying."

Pat Cummins drops his pat and pumps his fists after hitting the winning runs in the first Test.
Pat Cummins absolutely erupted after hitting the winning runs in the First Test at Edgbaston. (Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images)

There were several poetic coincidences regarding that Headingley loss. In 2019, Australia had opportunities to claim Stokes' wicket and win the match in the dying stages - only for Lyon to miss a run-out chance and a subsequent LBW appeal being denied. Had Australia had any DRS chances left at that stage, Stokes would have been out.

At Edgbaston it was Lyon who benefited from a key error from Stokes, who dropped an admittedly tough chance after the off-spinner had made an ill-advised pull shot that the England captain did well to get hands to. But the enormity of the drop chance was not lost on Stokes, who dropped to his knees in frustration.

Australia needed 37 runs to win at that point, with Cummins and Lyon calmly thinking their way through one of the most important wags of the tail in Australia's history. Lyon praised Cummins for his cool head in the middle.

"He was pretty calm the whole time," said Lyon. "He just said, 'let's take the singles if they're there, enjoy the moment and if it's there, hit it'."

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