Ben Hilfenhaus ensures he gets it right with the first ball of the Ashes

Published: Nov 26, 2010, 07:11 IST | Khalid A-H Ansari |

Australia's Hilfenhaus ensures he gets it right with the first ball of the 2010-11 Ashes

Australia's Ben Hilfenhaus, who bowled the first over of the Brisbane Test at the Gabba yesterday, didn't quite emulate the ludicrous example of England's nervy opening bowler Steve Harmison, who fired the very first ball of the Ashes Test at the same venue four years ago straight into the hands of a mystified Freddie Flintoff at second slip.

The gaffe set the tone for a five-nil series shellacking of England.

Hilfenhaus did quite the opposite by claiming England captain and opening batsman Andrew Strauss with the third ball of his first over of the match, caught by Michael Hussey at gully, to put England immediately on the back foot.

Ben Hilfenhaus

With the ghost of Steve Harmison still, apparently, hovering above the Gabba and with Australian captain Ricky Ponting ominously predicting the first morning could unravel the course of the series, a reporter had puckishly asked England captain Andrew Strauss at the pre-Test press conference if his seemingly confident squad would experience the sort of nerves betrayed by Harmison.

"We know pretty much who's going to be taking that first ball, and we know pretty much he's got great control over the ball."

"The first ball doesn't win or lose you the Ashes," Strauss, obviously choosing to forget the humiliation of the 2006-07 team of which he was a member, responded matter-of-factly. He went on to say he believed the two sides are so evenly matched the series will be decided over 25 days, not the opening ball, or session, or day, or indeed the entire first Test.

"Was it the worst ball I ever bowled?" Harmison asked self-deprecatingly recently of his moment of embarrassment. He went on to reply: "I think it was probably the worst ball anyone has ever bowled in Test cricket. It was atrocious.

"All I wanted to happen was for a big hole to open up in the ground and for me to jump in it and disappear."

Australian opener Justin Langer was then the batsman with Matthew Hayden the non-striker. Hayden said earlier this week Langer thought for a while he had taken guard on the wrong strip.

Four years earlier, England captain Nasser Hussain had been hauled over the coals by the English media for inserting Australia after winning the toss, only to see Steve Waugh's home side rattle up 364 for two by the end of play.

History aside, Strauss is expecting the present series to be tenaciously fought all the way to the last day of the fifth Test at Sydney in the first week of January next year.

"The first day is important obviously, and people always look back at the first day of the series and say this might have happened or that might have happened.

"But the reality is that generally the better side over the five Tests will win, and if you want to be the better side you play consistent cricket for all five Test matches.

"If you want to win the series you need to win a lot more days than you lose. So that's the way we're looking at it."
Endorsing the England captain's point of view, Ponting said: "There's a lot that's often made of the first hour but it's not the be-all and end-all. Test cricket's about five long days over five different games."

Ponting, almost a quarter of whose 39 Test centuries have come in the first innings of the opening match of the series, went on to add: "I've always really focused on making sure that I'm right for that first innings of the series. I feel can have a big say in how a series develops with my first innings in a series."

Ponting has been under fire for Australia's slide from No 1 to No 5 in the ICC Test rankings and his perceived weakness against the rising delivery which induces him to hook and perish caught in the leg and mid-wicket regions.

A third successive Ashes defeat (after 2005 and 2009) would indubitably spell 'finis' to his distinguished career as Australia captain but a victory could see his reign continue until the next Ashes series (in England) in 2013.

Ponting has demanded that the actual Ashes urn be brought to Australia for the last Test (he was handed the real six-inch, 127-year old diminutive trophy after Australia's 5-0 win in 2006-07). The MCC has declined to make it available again, saying it's too fragile to be transported across the world to Australia from Lord's.

An MCC official accompanying the urn to Australia four years ago claimed the pedestal and handles were cracked during travel. A Waterford Crystal replica was paraded around the Gabba yesterday by Queensland hero Matthew Hayden.

Opting to bat after winning the toss, England were bowled out for 260 on a slowish wicket which had pronounced bounce. Pace bowler Peter Siddle, a surprise, last-minute inclusion in the squad ahead of the fancied Doug Bollinger, celebrated his 26th birthday before a sell-out crowd of 42,000 with impressive figures of six for 54, including the hat-trick wickets of Alastair Cook (67), Matt Prior (0) and Stuart Broad (0). Ian Bell (76), Cook and Kevin Pietersen (43) lent a semblance of respectability to the tourists' total.

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