After losing the 2013-14 Ashes series by an embarrassing 5-0 scoreline to Australia, England captain Alastair Cook would have been hoping for a good start to the First Test when the two teams met at Cardiff for the beginning of 2015 series. Despite winning the toss and electing to bat, the hosts slumped to 43-3 amid some poor shots and ominous signs that another uphill battle against the Aussies was about to transpire. When Joe Root arrived at the crease, to replace the departing Ian Bell, what followed may have signalled an upturn in the fortunes of the English cricketers.
Root was almost bowled lbw from one of his opening deliveries but when he made contact with a fairly wide ball which travelled to Australian wicket-keeper Brad Haddin, he was reprieved from an early dismissal without scoring by a failed attempted at a one handed catch. It was not a particularly good stroke by Root and it was not immediately apparent the ball had struck the bat, but a chance for the Aussies to seriously trouble England had been wasted.
There followed a partnership of 153 between Root and Gary Balance which helped to steady the England innings and restore some confidence for Balance who has generally struggled to score runs this season. Both batsmen were able score a succession of boundaries with the easy pitch not particularly helping the bowlers, although the uneven bounce appeared to trouble Balance at times.
Balance was eventually bowled lbw for 61 while Root was eventually dismissed when caught in the slips by Shane Watson for 134 while Ben Stokes displayed his usual swashbuckling skills when compiling 52 runs before being bowled by Mitchell Starc. A sign of some bad feeling between bowler and outgoing batsman was evident when Starc put his finger to his lips suggesting that he disproved of the outspoken nature of Stokes.
England finished the day on 343-7 and could be satisfied with the performance yet it could be argued that honours were shared on the day. The opening English batsmen had been guilty of poor shots rather than been the victims of good Australian bowling and Alastair Cook may have hoped that his team had finished with two fewer wickets lost, but when the innings appeared set to end with a very low total, he will have been content with the day’s performance.
However, the day’s events proved that test match series can be won or lost in one particular moment as with the dropped catch by Haddin when Root was yet to score. Australia may yet live to regret that incident as it then allowed England to build some much needed momentum and bat from lunch to tea without losing a wicket.
It is now the responsibility of Cook and England to take advantage of their slice of good fortune and attempt to erase the memory of that 5-0 humiliation just 18 months previously.