Ben Stokes has rightly been cast in the role of pantomime villain since arriving in Australia but his performance at the Gabba was that of a player who knows he is in serious trouble. Stokes made a gallant if ultimately futile, attempt to rescue England from another ash thrashing by batting for more than four hours and picking up the wicket that broke what had been a crucial second-wicket partnership.
Stokes wielded his bat like a man who knows he needs runs and fast but, with two weeks to go before the third Test in Perth, England’s all‑format No6 is staring at an Ashes disaster after Australia led by 299 on another gripping first day. Stokes was the last man out for 65, caught behind off Nathan Lyon as England were bowled out for 295.
The 🐐 strikes!
— 7Cricket (@7Cricket) January 9, 2022
Stokes’ first innings of the series mean that he is averaging just 14.8 in seven Test innings since being recalled on this tour at The Oval in September after being cleared by police of any involvement in a Bristol nightclub brawl. England has completed back-to-back Ashes thrashings only once before, in 1978‑79, but at this rate, they will do so again over the next two weeks if their senior players continue to fail.
This was another underwhelming day for Joe Root’s team despite rampant conditions that enabled Mitchell Starc to take five wickets in the morning session before making way for Pat Cummins.
By contrast, Root’s opposite number, Steve Smith, was almost faultless in his 165 not out after he won the toss. It was a long way from Brisbane 2013 when England was bowled out by lunch on the opening day here and it took them until halfway through day three to bowl Australia out for 215.
— 7Cricket (@7Cricket) January 9, 2022
Stokes did not bowl at all in the first innings but he was on early with the second new ball after lunch and almost immediately delivered his best ball of the series, a 90mph inswinging yorker that had David Warner edging behind. It might be remembered as one of Stokes’ last contributions to the series because England desperately needs runs from him.
Stokes hit three boundaries in his innings but his last six was an ugly swipe over mid-off and while he is a fine athlete and has played some magnificent innings for England, he cannot be regarded as a Test all‑rounder at this stage of his career. His bowling is too inconsistent and he cannot be trusted with the bat in the lower order.
England was on top for most of a gripping first day but after lunch, Australia batted with far greater conviction and Root did not help his side by turning to Moeen Ali’s off-spin at just the wrong time. The England captain should have stuck with Mark Wood rather than introducing Ali who, after the first hour, was roundly booed by fans who are clearly not enamored with his off‑spin.
Moeen’s delivery to dismiss Smith in the second innings of the first Test at Brisbane was a horror similar to that offered up here when he bowled an innocuous full toss which Smith scored from. Wood has dismissed Smith five times in 14 innings, so it was surprising not to see him given the ball sooner.
At one point Smith clubbed Wood high over long-on for six but after lunch, he hardly played a false shot until Stokes took his wicket immediately before the end of play. This included an especially memorable cover drive off Moeen which drew comparisons to Michael Vaughan’s square-cut against Australia at Edgbaston in 1997.
Stokes was even more impressive than Smith because he took the attack to Australia, hitting Hazlewood over his head for six and then doing the same to Lyon. He missed out on a deserved century when Cummins held a difficult low catch at short leg from Mitchell Marsh’s miscued pull.
Root dropped David Warner on 13, the captain had changed his gloves after previously dropping him twice in Brisbane. Stokes was forced to field for more than an hour at short leg but he passed 50 for the first time in the series before Lyon held a low chance off Wood’s bowling with England desperately seeking another wicket.