There was a stage in Monty Panesar’s career when Shane Warne said the spinner had not played 33 Tests but the same Test 33 times. The same could also be said about this summer’s series.
The fifth Test may be only a day old but already there is an overwhelming sense of familiarity about it. England land early blows, Brad Haddin launches counter-attack, Mitchell Johnson strikes with the ball, advantage Australia. It is not an overly imaginative script, particularly when acted out for a fifth time in six weeks, but remains a box-office hit in a country only just rediscovering that winning Ashes feeling.
In most Tests, honours would be even if one team had been dismissed for 326 on the first day, as Australia were, but the circumstances here are different.
For starters, Australia, after being sent in by Alastair Cook, already have 71 more than England’s best first-innings effort of the series.
If you wanted to be cheeky, you could even suggest Steve Smith alone with 115 – his second century in three Tests – could make a game of it against England, who will resume on the second morning on 1-8 having already lost Michael Carberry to Johnson’s express pace.
Secondly, this is a demoralised England team that may understand in theory what it takes to win but, on the evidence of this tour, no longer has the capabilities to do so.
Ten minutes after lunch, Australia had been reduced to 5-97 by a cock-a-hoop England attack but in the ensuing 2 hours, the match changed complexion significantly.
Smith led the way numerically but it was the runs flowing from Haddin’s blade, which to England must appear as wide as the gulf in form between the two sides, that turned the game. Haddin has throughout his career been dogged by perceptions he gives his wicket away too cheaply but it was his attacking spirit and sense of adventure that England could not contain.
His first two scoring shots – a classical straight drive and a deliberate upper cut over the slips – were boundaries and a sign he was prepared to hit his way out of trouble rather than play for time.
‘‘It’s been outstanding hasn’t it? Being in tough circumstances he comes in and tries to switch the momentum of the game,’’ said Smith of Haddin, who made 75 off 90 balls. ‘‘He’s done it on numerous occasions this series. And credit to him, he’s played beautifully. To be able to bat with him today and form another partnership was great with the team.’’
The momentum swung when the clouds, which had played a part in Cook deciding to bowl first, cleared soon after lunch. Apart from the dismissal of George Bailey, whose sole run will fail to convince his doubters he is Test class, the sunny skies had a vampire-like effect on England’s bowlers, who suddenly lost their potency. In one 19-over period during the Haddin-Smith stand there were 19 boundaries, which proved England could not sustain their accuracy for the time required to prosper with a softer ball. Although runs were also being freely leaked before lunch, England were able to extract sharp bounce and movement off the seam with the new ball.
Stuart Broad, who claimed the wickets of David Warner and Bailey, was at his best while the ball was harder and can consider himself unlucky not to finish with more than two wickets. Although Ben Stokes will have steadier days with the ball, it is unlikely he will have as much success as in the first innings, where he claimed a career-best 6-99.
As the late afternoon clouds settled, Stokes ran through Australia’s tail, claiming three wickets in one over. Perhaps this English souffle can rise twice but the old enemy will need to be made of sterner stuff with the bat if they are to leave the country having escaped a whitewash – a result that many feel would be their just deserts.