It is never too early to throw away the Ashes. In 2002, Nasser Hussain appeared to have done just that when he walked out for the toss convinced that he would bat if he won and found himself uttering the words “I think we’ll field” as soon as he got the call right.
In those few strides, he had become convinced that his batsmen would not be able to handle Glenn McGrath and Co. Within the space of a few seconds, all plans had gone out of the window. Australia cashed in.
To be fair to Nasser, he was probably just surprised he had called correctly, having won six out of his 27 previous tosses, including a fabulous statistically improbable sequence of one win out of 16 in 2000-01. A great captain, Nasser, but a hopeless tosser.
I was speaking to Phil DeFreitas recently about the importance of seizing the initiative early. “Daffy”, who at the age of 20 was given a Test debut at the Gabba in the 1986-87 Ashes, said it was crucial in that match that England’s batsmen passed 400 after winning the toss (helped in no small measure by 40 for DeFreitas).
It gave the bowlers the confidence to attack Australia and from that initial win flowed the series. England have not won the first Test of an away Ashes since.
Eight years later, Defreitas was the older, wiser spearhead of Mike Atherton’s attack as they tried to regain the Ashes. DeFreitas had done his visualisation exercises, putting himself mentally in the right place for the Test. He had worked out what end he wanted and gone through in his mind what he would do with that first ball.
And then, as they walked out on that first morning, Mike Gatting smelt the wind, decided it was blowing in a funny way and suggested to Atherton that they should open from the opposite end.
“I wasn’t happy about it,” DeFreitas told me. “It really threw me. I couldn’t find my line and Michael Slater hit my first two balls to the fence.” And so passed another Ashes series out of England’s clutches before the first drinks break.The dismissal of Andrew Strauss to the third ball of yesterday's opening day could also be regarded as a momentum-shifter, except that England did not quite roll up and die.
Historians may yet come to regard his ill-judged cut stroke as the point at which England lost the 2010 Ashes, but fifties from Ian Bell and Alastair Cook at least ensured that England are not quite out of the game. By reaching 260, they gave the England bowlers something to work with.
I am foolishly grasping to a recent example from Australian state cricket at the same ground. Last month, New South Wales played Queensland in Brisbane and were dismissed for 262, two more than England. They went on to win by an innings and 90 runs. Time for England's bowlers to follow that.