Michael Clarke, Australia Fail to Change as Stuart Broad and England Dominate

Tim CollinsFeatured ColumnistNovember 21, 2013

Michael Clarke walks off after being dismissed by Stuart Broad.
Michael Clarke walks off after being dismissed by Stuart Broad.Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Michael Clarke's timid dismissal was indicative of his team's malaise, as Australia showed that the verbal barbs thrown in the lead-up to this series held the same level of conviction as their own top order.

On a flat batting wicket under the baking Queensland sun, Australia displayed that knack for self-destruction that has riddled their cricket in recent years. After weeks of chatter that had stressed the recent improvement in this Australian team, England exposed the home side for what they really are: The wildly underwhelming, fifth-ranked Test side in the world.

It was Clarke—the captain who had appeared unusually agitated prior to this Test—that best encapsulated Australia's performance, succumbing to Stuart Broad's revealing emasculation of him.

The Australian leader's difficulties against Broad's short-pitched approach had been so profound in England earlier this year that Clarke had spent weeks preparing himself for a bruising barrage ahead of this rematch.

But nets practice is one thing; the cauldron of an Ashes Test another entirely. So, when Clarke trudged off The Gabba turf after tamely poking Broad's very first short delivery to Ian Bell, it was clear that despite the talk that Australia had changed, nothing, in fact, had changed at all.

Perhaps, what made Australia's opening day display most disappointing was the sheer importance of the first afternoon's outcome for Clarke's men. While England own the experience and skill to overcome an early series deficit, Australia desperately need to hit the ground running if they are to reverse the 3-0 scoreline from July and August.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 21:  David Warner of Australia looks dejected after being dismissed by Stuart Broad of England during day one of the First Ashes Test match between Australia and England at The Gabba on November 21, 2013 in Brisbane, Austral
Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Yet, this is an Australian team seemingly incapable of that. The mental fortitude is disturbingly lacking; the nation's famous, rugged character unrecognisable in what is supposed to be its finest XI. 

With Broad relishing his role as the pantomime villain, the visitors owned a cool sense of self-assurance compared with the hosts' alarming insecurity. Certainly, when Broad carried a copy of Brisbane's Courier Mail—the paper that had labelled him a "smug pommy cheat"—into his evening press conference, it was obvious that England were soaking up Australia's faux outrage, happy to watch the home side wilt under the weight of expectation.

That expectation, it seems, is enough to blur Australia's own sense of identity. The Gabba is supposed to be the country's cricketing fortress, a venue where Australia haven't lost since 1988. The steepling bounce and blistering pace are supposed to suit every aspect of the home side's approach.

Back foot play, square-of-the-wicket savagery, leaving on length—all "Australian" notions that should suggest Clarke's men are well suited to the homely surrounds of Brisbane.

Yet, the manner of the dismissals on Thursday suggested otherwise.

Every short-pitched delivery seemed to send tremors of unease through the Australian camp. Chris Rogers was caught hopping around the crease like an inexperienced subcontinental batsman on his first tour of Australia, fending a rising Broad delivery to gully.

Shane Watson, who had composed an unusually subdued 22, hung his piece of willow out to another of Broad's mid-pitch efforts. With his side cruising at 71-1 just before lunch, Watson's unnecessary dangle of the bat reflected his team's lack of grit and attention to detail.

The busy David Warner was the fourth man to suffer the same fate, inexcusably slapping a rather innocuous Broad short delivery to Kevin Pietersen at cover.

Left reeling at 83-4, Australia's debutant George Bailey entered the fire, quickly departing in a manner that exposed the insignificance of limited overs form in the Test arena. Unwilling to let the ball go, the 31-year-old found himself edging a delivery that he didn't have to play at to Alastair Cook, safe in the knowledge that James Anderson had well and truly worked him over.

Thankfully for the home side, Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson were able to put together a 114-run stand for the seventh wicket, which helped prevent the day from reaching a truly desperate level.

Haddin has long been known for his stubborn, counter-attacking approach with the bat; tight situations are seemingly his preference when it's his time to stand at the crease.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 21:  Stuart Broad of England celebrates after taking his fifth wicket after dismissing Mitchell Johnson of Australia during day one of the First Ashes Test match between Australia and England at The Gabba on November 21, 201
Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Johnson was equally impressive, mirroring Haddin's determined method as he repelled England's attack for almost two-and-a-half hours.

But Broad's fifth wicket of the day—scattering Johnson's stumps after a well made 64—entrenched England in the driver's seat, at the same time reminding the home side that sub-400 totals rarely win matches on Australian soil.

So, when the blazing sun lowered itself in the sky and the shadows of The Gabba stands crept across the turf, both sides made their way into the dressing rooms, acknowledging that England had once again been too much for Australia in this opening Ashes encounter.

The rest of us left acknowledging that nothing has changed at all.