Australia's sense of invulnerability at the Gabba has been underlined for a quarter of a century. It is the ground at which they feel all things are possible, all ailments can be cured. But even Australia, vigorously rediscovering their belief on the ground where they have long reigned supreme, must have reflected that England's traumatised batting provided a helping hand
England's ability to micro-manage every aspect of their preparation has been well chronicled, but they have yet to fathom why their batsmen repeatedly perform so inadequately at the start of overseas series. Once again, they succumbed according to tradition, in perfectly good batting conditions, too, as Australia wrested a first-innings lead of 159 that at the start of the day must have been beyond their wildest dreams.
If Australia's batting was flaky, England's calamitous afternoon was something to behold. Six England wickets fell after lunch for nine runs in a startling 58-ball phase as Australia, who were seemingly under pressure after lodging a none-too-impressive 295 on first innings, inspired a feverish response from a Brisbane crowd suddenly convinced that they can claim victory in the opening Test.
This Ashes series is well and truly alive. The opposite may have been intimated 24 hours ago. It is good news for those hoping for a compelling series. In Ryan Harris, Australia have a bullish fast bowler full of late-career wisdom, capable if his fitness holds of troubling England throughout the series; his 3 for 28 dried up England like a desert wind. In Mitchell Johnson, currently sporting a Movember moustache that gives him the look of an Italian artist, they have a flighty fast-bowling talent who is no longer living on the dark side of the moon; four wickets and plenty of hostility testified to that.
England made only 39 runs in the session: the nine runs they scrambled from fourth to eighth wicket down representing their second-lowest return, outdone only by the six runs they scored against West Indies in 1954. Beyond Michael Carberry's 40, a sound innings which ran out of steam, and a few late blows by Stuart Broad, they could show little of merit.
The last time Australia lost at the Gabba was against a fearsome West Indies pace attack 25 years ago, when Brisbane was still not much more than a sub-tropical outpost rather than the cosmopolitan river city it is today, and they defended that record with passion as the first Test swung dramatically in their favour.
Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott were dismissed before lunch. Cook built his Ashes reputation in Brisbane three years ago. He made more than 300 runs in the match and England's second-innings score of 517 for 1, the harbinger of their series victory, remains seared in Australia's consciousness. There was to be no great statement, though, for England's captain on his return as he edged a challenging delivery around off stump from Harris to the wicketkeeper.
|Mitchell Johnson took 4 for 61 to leave England reeling © Getty Images
Johnson was brought back to test Trott against the short stuff, just as Broad had been lined up for Michael Clarke on the first day. It gave him a simple purpose and with that purpose came a self-belief that was lacking in a ropey new-ball spell. Trott was immediately struck on the glove by a searing short ball, his imperturbable expression just holding. Australia squeezed in another over for Johnson before lunch and it paid off as Trott, getting across his stumps in anticipation of another short one, glanced a relatively nondescript delivery to the wicketkeeper Brad Haddin.
There was no joy in his 100th Test for Kevin Pietersen, who batted with more composure than most for an hour but was controlled by Australia's persistent line about six inches outside off stump and eventually clipped Harris to short midwicket. Pietersen had earlier been dropped on 8, a return catch to Peter Siddle, who adopted the brace position too early.
Pietersen's departure was the start of a calamitous collapse. Carberry had batted with great discernment in only his second Test, at 33 years of age, leaving much outside off stump and picking the ball off his pads, but he made only a single from his last 39 balls as his strokeplay dried as the sight of England wickets falling loaded up his responsibilities. Johnson went round the wicket to have him caught at slip on 40, accentuating the feeling that Australia's plans were coming together.
Carberry might also have been run out on the same score when he bounced his bat carelessly into the crease and only just made his ground, with some Australia fielders incensed that the umpires did not turn to the TV umpire for confirmation.
Ian Bell and Matt Prior then fell in consecutive balls, both caught at short leg off the offspinner Nathan Lyon. Bell was undone by a bit of extra bounce, Prior by an inside edge on to his pad which required an Australian review to overturn umpire Aleem Dar's decision. Australia were even getting their reviews right.
Worse was to follow in the next over when Joe Root's brief and nervy innings ended with a push at a fullish delivery from Johnson and the third catch in nine balls for Steve Smith, this time at third slip. Even then the agony was not over for England as Graeme Swann was caught at short leg off an inside edge, bringing Johnson his fourth wicket. H
Broad mustered a few lusty blows after tea as England at least avoided the ignominy of the follow-on, but when Broad fell at deep midwicket attempting to pull Harris, there were no doubts about Australia's sizeable advantage
Earlier, Haddin was run out six runs short of what would have been a thoroughly deserved Ashes hundred - he said afterwards he regarded the innings among his best - as England required only 7.1 overs to wrap up Australia's first innings. Haddin fell attempting a second run into the off side, with Australia's last pair together. Carberry's retrieval was slick and Prior did the rest by collecting an awkward take and breaking the stumps.
Broad, who had 5 for 65 overnight, struck with the sixth ball of his second over as Harris, intending to leave a length delivery, only managed to guide it to the wicketkeeper. Broad walked off with 6 for 81 to some full-throated boos. Australia's total seemed shy, but that reckoned without the energising effect of Brisbane on an Australian bowling attack and the fallibility of an England batting side - an England side, too, troubled by a bad-weather build-up - when battle has only just been joined. David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo Feeds: David Hopps© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.