England began their Ashes tour in disarray at The Gabba, flopping to 147 all out on a dispiriting first day which saw Rory Burns dismissed by the first ball of the series.
With grey skies overhead and green tinges underfoot captain Joe Root resisted the temptation to bowl first, a decision he will rue for some time after Australia’s relentless pace attack wiped the tourists out inside two sessions.
While Root will look back on his day in Brisbane with bitter regret, opposite number Pat Cummins enjoyed a charmed start to life as Australia skipper with figures of five for 38. England were then denied the chance to land some blows of their own, with torrential rain and bad light meaning no play was possible after tea.
The long-awaited contest got under way at 10am local time – or midnight for the more committed fans in the UK – and was only a few seconds old before it provided a moment that will go down in Ashes folklore next to Steve Harmison’s horror wide in 2006.
Left-arm quick Mitchell Starc detonated Burns’ leg stump with a swinging delivery before turning up the temperature with a vein-popping, eye-bulging celebration. For Burns, whose skittish footwork turned a decent delivery into a devilish one, it was calamitous and for his team, a grim foreshadowing of the struggles to come.
Dawid Malan and Root followed in the first four overs, the in-form skipper for a morale-sapping duck, and when the returning Ben Stokes was picked off by Cummins the scoreboard read 29 for four.
Haseeb Hameed (25), Ollie Pope (35) and Jos Buttler (39) all threatened to steady the ship but the Australian attack continued producing the goods to keep a steady stream of departures. Cummins dealt ruthlessly with the tail, wrapping things up just before tea to leave England well short of a competitive score.
The tourists began by omitting Stuart Broad from their XI in favour of spinner Jack Leach. Having already rested James Anderson that meant 1,156 Test wickets were left on the sidelines, but Root’s call at the toss meant it was the batting that went under the microscope first.
Starc came into the match under pressure for his place but will take some shifting after skittling Burns, who left his stumps exposed with a curious shuffle to the off side and paid the price. He is not the first Englishman to fall off the opening ball of an Ashes series but the fact that Stan Worthington suffered the same fate in 1936 is unlikely to ease his mind.
Things went from bad to worse when Josh Hazlewood settled into a rhythm, beating Malan with a shade of seam movement and some additional bounce to give debutant wicketkeeper Alex Carey his first catch in a Baggy Green.
That put Root in a familiar fire-fighting position but Hazlewood ousted him without score, sowing uncertainty around off stump before snaring the edge. Australia were rampant at 11 for three and Cummins joined the party when he came round the wicket to Stokes, making his first competitive appearance since a five-month hiatus, and had him fending to third slip.
Hameed was a source of calm throughout two chaotic hours but when England resumed after lunch he lasted only four more balls, nicking Cummins pressing forward.
From the depths of 60 for five, Pope and Buttler offered a brief glimpse of positivity with a lively stand worth 52. Pope brought a spark of energy, dashing through for a handful of quick singles and attacking square of the wicket while Buttler brought an unexpected swagger to the crease.
Three times he lofted Hazlewood high over the infield, and he picked up five boundaries as he bristled with intent. But Australia had the answers.
Starc responded to a sweetly-struck four by tightening his line and having Buttler caught behind, before Pope gave his start away by shovelling Cameron Green’s short ball to fine leg. It was the all-rounder’s maiden Test wicket, having drawn a blank in his previous four caps.
Cummins backed himself to take care of the tail and delivered in style, picking off Ollie Robinson, Mark Wood and finally Chris Woakes to complete England’s miserable start.
Rain began to fall in the tea interval and built up to a squall to washout the evening and keep Australia’s openers in the pavilion.
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