It had been alleged that England could have set Australia a much higher total than 412 to claim victory and there was the conflicting argument that the Aussies were incapable to surpassing that target in their attempt to claim a win the First Ashes Test at Cardiff. As the Australian second innings closed at 242 all out with England winning by 169 runs, the latter assertion clearly won the day, but the result does offer genuine concern for the tourists while there may also be some exaggeration with the headlines of a superb performance by the hosts.
Australia started the fourth day aiming to play controlled cricket with the intention of accumulating runs at a steady rate with two days required to score an unlikely 412 runs. Just before lunch, and with a sore of 97-1, both Steve Smith and David Warner appeared comfortable at the crease and were proving difficult opponents for the England bowlers to dislodge.
Moeen Ali then returned to the attack after an expensive first few overs and within three balls, Warner was trapped lbw. It was to prove another pivotal moment in the game, allowing England to resume after the break with renewed momentum and the wickets tumbled still further as the Aussies were reduced to 122-6 shortly after the interval. A mixture of poor shot selection and good England bowling had created a situation whereby Australia faced defeat before tea with their opponents becoming increasingly confident.
However, in batting at number 8 in the order, Mitchell Johnson proved that runs could be scored on a deteriorating wicket and his 77 total would serve as a slight embarrassment to the top order batsmen, only one of whom accumulated more than 40 runs. That only one Australian scored more than 40 runs in their first innings highlights a batting concern among the tourists which much be addressed before the second test begins in just a few days.
For England, the 169 run victory represents a turnaround in fortunes for a team beaten 5-0 during their last Australian tour just 18 months previously. Yet the players should be wary of readily believing the headlines claiming a superb English performance as without the 194 runs scored by Joe Root and the dropped catch by Brad Haddin when the Yorkshire cricketer was still to claim a first innings run, the outcome could have been very different.
Alastair Cook has performed admirably as captain and the bowlers have been generally accurate but there some of the batting displays were below standard with reckless shots contributing to some unnecessary dismissals at times when discipline was required. It is unlikely that Root will be able to score at least 50 runs at every visit to the crease and any future failure on his part will provide the ultimate test for the English team, which will also confirm whether the current accolades in the media can be justified.