The first Ashes Test got off to a somewhat inauspicious start for Australia, with skipper Pat Cummins' first ball smacked to the boundary by England opener Zak Crawley after the home side won the toss and elected to bat. That first ball appears to have set the tone for England, who declared shortly before stumps at 8/393.
Much has been made of England's high-octane 'Bazball' style of play under head coach Brendon McCullum, with Crawley and Joe Root leading the charge against the Aussies. Crawley made 61 and Joe Root an unbeaten 118, including four sixes, while Johnny Bairstow added a run-a-ball 78 in the tail-end.
On a pitch looking increasingly likely to suit the batters, Australia's tactics in the field lead to a growing feeling of consternation among observers, with former England captain Alastair Cook describing the conservative field placements as 'un-Australian'. Former Australian counterpart Ricky Ponting was in agreement, and also slightly puzzled as men were placed on the boundary from the get-go.
While the impressive first innings from the hosts wasn't necessarily totalled by hitting the boundary line with regularity, they were allowed to rotate the strike often as a result of Australia's fielding. Ponting immediately raised an eyebrow and questioned whether or not enough pressure would be placed on each batter.
“They’ve gone defensive straight away,” he said. “I must admit, I’m not a huge fan of that deep backward point as a starting option … if the scoreboard continually ticks over, batsmen never feel under pressure at all.”
England were scoring at nearly five runs an over in the first hour of play, as Crawley in particular looked to make a swift impact. However Josh Hazlewood said after stumps that it had been important to keep England 'in check', himself the most economical of the Aussie attack, going at barely over four runs per over.
“If we shut down the boundaries in that score it doesn’t really go through the roof, seven or eight an over,” he said. “So if we can keep it at five an over and keep taking wickets throughout the day, that somewhat keeps them in check.”
Seems quite timid from Australia this morning. Dropping deep in the field in the first hour is curious approach.
— Rory Dollard (@thervd) June 16, 2023
I don't remember seeing such a defensive Australia from ball one of an #Ashes series. They may say BazBall hasn't got into their heads but the evidence says otherwise. Going at almost 5 an over isn't really what they'd be hoping for.
— Rich Harle (@RJHarle) June 16, 2023
Very surprised / disappointed with the Aust defensive fields. I understand what they are trying to do to stop the boundaries but it’s ultra defensive on day one of the Ashes Series. Sends the wrong
message IMO 🤷♂️
It’s actually leaving gaps everywhere & good players will feast.
— Darren Berry (@ChuckBerry1969) June 16, 2023
Australia continuously leaking runs in between Point and gully area and putting the swiper out there, it seems too defensive. Should have gone with the pack offside field with offering them to play drive instead of leaking easy single and double. #Ashes2023
— Rizan khanal (@Rizankhanal2) June 16, 2023
Fantastic 1st day of the #Ashes23. Australia too defensive in the morning but hit back in the afternoon. Root & Bairstow then counter attacked. Will Stokes rue that late declaration, sacrificing runs for wickets that didn't come! Great match & series awaits! #EngvAus #Cricket
— Michael Murphy (@M_Murphy2004) June 16, 2023
England legends thrilled by Australia's defensive Ashes approach
The defensive field left several England greats, including Cook, Eoin Morgan and Kevin Pietersen positively licking their chops. Morgan told the Sky Sports broadcast that he was 'shocked' by how early Australia had resorted to protecting the boundary.
“It’s been interesting, particularly the tactics from Australia,” he said. “I have been shocked in many ways with how defensive their fields have been, as they haven’t done it before. They have been the first to blink.”
His co-host Pietersen was equally surprised but pleased for England, saying he'd believed Cummins and co would live with a few fours and sixes in order to tempt the England into ill-advised shots. Crawley hit seven fours, Bairstow 12, and Root had seven boundaries and four that went the distance.
“Australia have got it wrong, but from an England perspective it is fantastic to see Australia so defensive," Pietersen said. I just think first morning of an Ashes series, I would have thought that Pat Cummins would have said, ‘OK England, give it a go. We don’t mind. Hit us for six fours … a couple of sixes, no problem. Then we will go to plan B’.
“I think that they went straight to plan-B.”
Nathan Lyon claimed four first-innings wickets, with Hazlewood picking up two of his own. Scott Boland's Ashes debut was a tough one, picking up the wicket of the dangerous Crawley but giving up 86 runs in his 14 overs in the process.
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