England warp the Ashes

Zak Crawley gets us underway with a modern day of Test cricket

The first ball in Ashes Test can be weird. You're probably not visualising Stan Worthington at the Gabba when thinking about it. His weird faffy hookshot paddle straight up in the air in 1936 was about as bad a loss on the first ball a team has had. It also shows how far back this first ball tradition goes back.

The Harmy

Of course since then we've seen Steve Harmison bowl to second slip, Michael Slater slash Phillip DeFreitas to the fence,  and Rory Burns dancing past the first ball.

So Zak Crawley entered that company with his first ball four from Pat Cummins. It was quite a start to an Ashes that was already bubbling over the edge. So to have this with the Bazball background juiced Edgbaston up.

It was a startling moment. A really poor ball from Pat Cummins. A surprisingly bad delivery that was wide. And really all Crawley had to do was step into it.

There was more going on here, as Australia started with three slips and a gully. But also a deep backward point. Which didn't work as the ball went squarer and still made the boundary. It was an impossible moment to ignore.

It would be easy to overanalyse a first ball of the Ashes. It's something that has happened quite a few times in those previous occasions, Harmison, DeFreitas and Burns all led to England losing. But Stan Worthington's arsehole of a shot did't even lose England that Test, although Australia would win the series.

The point is that we often look at happens early as a sign of things to come. But in 2010/11 Andrew Strauss was out from the third ball, and England bossed that Test series.

We have no idea what Crawley's first ball might mean for the series. But we know what it means for cricket right now; England are warping Tests.

Australia knew it was coming, and Crawley still hit a boundary.

By the third over, Australia had three fielders on the boundary. Not because they were trying short balls, just because they were preemptively assuming England would score quick. England made 18 off the first three overs with them out anyway.

There were other bizarre moments, like when Scott Boland was bowling to Zak Crawley and Alex Carey came up to the stumps. In the first morning of an Ashes Test. Like even Bert Oldfield was standing back when Worthington played his stupid hoik. You don't see this much, but in the world of the Bazball shuffle, everything is on the table.

When Lyon got on it was even odder, there was a moment when it was genuinely hard to tell if the fielders hadn't realised there was a bowling change. Because Lyon had fielders at long on, deep midwicket, deep square leg and deep backward point. It was like a video game where you forgot to change the field over from ODI mode.

It got weirder because Smith moved out of slip to field at a position that could only be called a reverse sweep gully. But here is where it got very fun as well, because Australia kept sledging Pope during this like they had eight hairy-lipped men around the bat. Not just Marnus in close while everyone else was out on the boundary. It was sledging, with sweepers.

Oh, and on Australia's weird fielding position, later when England bowled to David Warner, they had something that can only be called a fly gully. It is possible today created two new fielding positions; the two funkiest gullies we've seen.

Crawley played an extraordinary shot at one point where he made three choices. The first was to come down the wicket as Boland came in. The second was to walk across to the offside. Then when Boland saw him and delivered wider, he still tried to flick to the legside anyway. Missing the ball. Well not actually missing, he edged it behind and Australia forgot to appeal. That was the headline, but the guts of it was that he made three bizarre attacking decisions on one ball.

By the 15th over, there was one slip in for the seamers. In England. On morning one. With Cummins, Hazlewood and Boland in the attack. The weirder fields were not just about the shots though. Stokes ordered bazballian wickets. Although, chances are this one is slower than anything he wanted. It certainly added to the different kind of day, and it was still influenced by England’s style.

There was still just about enough juice in the wicket though for some proper bazball shots. Like when Harry Brook tried to hit a six over point from a short ball. Instead he spooned the ball and Head didn't pick it up, and then dropped the chance.

The shot was very New England, but what happened next was almost as interesting. Head was moved from deep backward point and replaced by Marnus Labuschagne. Head is not a great fielder. Putting him out at deep backward point really shouldn't cost you much, though. But Australia wanted a better catcher at deep backward point on day one. In cricket you get your best fielders into catching positions. Apparently 55 metres away sweeping the offside boundary is now one of them.

Australia's fielding positions was very different to what we are used to. They had an in-and-out field all day. England didn't score their boundaries like they can in full pomp. But they did find singles all day. For many English players that wasn't enough. For one, it was his dream.

Joe Root is the best single scorer in world cricket, and Australia set fields to allow him singles all day. He started with men out at point, so he dropped the ball and ran. But later on he'd bat with Ollie Robinson, and Australia moved the field out to actually gift him a single. Instead of blocking the first four and then looking for a one, Root took everything offered to him. Then when he got to 99, with Lyon bowling to him, Australia kept all their fielders out.

Joe Root did not make his 30th Test hundred. He made his 17th ODI ton.

The final oddity on the fucked up cake, was that Ben Stokes declared to bowl a few overs at Australia despite the fact Root was still collecting his singles, and a few sixes.

But let me explain this day as best I can. At one stage Josh Hazlewood was bowling to Joe Root with a slip and gully in place. At deep backward point they had a fielder on the boundary. Smith spent a long time trying to get Cummins to bring that fielder in. You could hear Marnus on stump mic saying, "He's getting singles too easily". The fielder out on the boundary also seemed to dissuade Root from playing his reverse scoop.

Quite often in the history of cricket bowlers have overpitched, or left holes in the field for players to go after. You might take out your cover, bowl some wider length balls to try tempt them into a drive away from their body.

There was a time on day one of an Ashes Test I wondered if Australia's best chance would be to bring deep point up into the slips, and bowl a dry line outside off to tempt Root into an ill-fated reverse scoop. That was the kind of day this was.

Crawley's shot may not tell us the future of this series. But it showed exactly how England had bent Tests.