Alastair Cook had called for England to “etch their names in history” as England sought a victory in the fourth Investec Test that would regain the Ashes and ease the memory of their whitewash in Australia 20 months earlier. But even Cook, an England captain brimming with expectation, would not have anticipated that they would carve through Australia’s batting so quickly at Trent Bridge on one of the most extraordinary starts to an Ashes Test in history.
Australia, utterly bereft, were dismissed for 60 in only 18.3 overs, with cricket statisticians wading through damning numbers either achieved or narrowly avoided. Stuart Broad, carrying an onerous responsibility in the absence of James Anderson, had his dander up from the outset and returned his best Test figures of 8 for 15 in 9.3 new-ball overs before a jubilant crowd. Anderson led the applause from the dressing room balcony.
“Unbelievable really,” Broad grinned. “I love bowling here. We knew Trent Bridge would offer something from a good length. Don’t chase the game.” Australia’s bowlers had quite an act to follow.
“Lack of batting technique leading to collapses,” was the considered opinion of Geoffrey Boycott, prominently placed on ESPNcricinfo as the Test began. Australia can’t say they weren’t warned. Within 35 minutes, they were 29 for 6 and the batsman walking off was Michael Clarke, who had tried to stare down his lack of form with jaw-jutting defiance and who had just had an almighty wipe at a wide one.
The beneficiary was Broad who before drinks on the first morning was brandishing the ball, a rudely red one only 6.1 overs old, to the crowd to mark a five-wicket haul. Five wickets, the curdled cream of Australian batting, secured by the first ball of his fourth over, a big-game player at the peak of his form on the home ground he loves so much. He bowled a perfect, inviting length on a Trent Bridge morning such as this, finding just enough seam movement and leaving a systematic close-catching cordon to do the rest.
Australia did not play and miss all that much, but they went hard at the ball, nicked often and when they did, England’s catching was exemplary, nine of the 10 wickets falling in the cordon.
Broad’s first wicket, that of Chris Rogers, made him the fifth England bowler to reach 300 Test wickets. When Clarke departed, Broad’s run of five wickets in 19 balls was the most prolific start to an innings in Test history. It was a rout as Australia played with hard hands on a good old-fashioned English seamer.
Australia’s inability to adapt to English conditions had never been more striking. An era where so much Test cricket is attritional on sedate pitches, and where T20 holds stay, has eaten into defensive techniques. From the first ball, as Broad scratched the crease, the brown earth revealed some residual dampness. But the movement was not excessive, not as extravagant as Edgbaston where England had won within three days.
England had won a good toss, having first bowl on an overcast Nottingham morning, aware that the Trent Bridge groundsman, pilloried for a stultifying surface officially marked as “poor” 12 months earlier against India would feel obliged to provide something a little spicier. The Test pitch had been dug up and its replacement thought it was housing a first-morning county match in April.
Rogers has been one of the staunchest members of this Australian batting line-up, but as the series has progressed Broad has found his measure, hounding the left-hander from around the wicket. When he found a little movement to expose a furtive push at the third ball of the morning, the tone was set.
By the time the over was completed, one of cricket’s prettiest scoreboards was looking uglier: 10 for 2. Steven Smith square drove Broad to the boundary boards – one of only seven boundaries in the innings – but he edged to third slip. Broad had squared up left and right hander in turn.
England preferred Mark Wood to Steven Finn with the new ball, aware of his excellent Trent Bridge record and his insistent line was enough to draw an inside edge from David Warner to a ball that came back. Clarke, demoted to No. 5 in an attempt at protection, must have been scurrying around the dressing room for bat and thigh pad, feeling no protection at all.
Shaun Marsh, preferred to his brother Mitchell to give Australia six specialist batsmen, became the third duck in the top four, Joe Root the latest sharp knife in the England slip box, standing at third. Adam Voges knows Trent Bridge from county cricket, but Broad knows Voges and knows he is a theory that has not come off. Resistance was beyond him as Ben Stokes flung himself rapidly to his right to hold a spectacular one-handed catch that will join Ashes folklore.
Broad ran down the pitch holding his hands to his face like a blushing deb who had just received an entirely unexpected presence. England’s wicketkeeper and four slips had all held catches in the first 6.1 overs. He had sensed Trent Bridge making eyes at him; his love affair was consummated in no time.
Clarke’s mind must have been swirling. A wideish delivery from Broad was tempting to a desperate man. Clarke was a desperate man. The ball flew to his rival captain, Cook, holding the catch above his head. It was a rash attempt to remedy matters with a single statement and it brought him only further misery. He might have fallen earlier, too, a statuesque flip-pull against Wood having fallen short of Finn at deep square.
And so it went on, a collapse that had long become impossible to arrest. Finn joined the fun, bringing one back to strike Peter Nevill’s off stump. Then three more to Broad. Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson – his 25-ball 13 the height of Australia’s resistance – giving two more slip catches to Root and the final one to Stokes as Nathan Lyon became the ninth batsman to fall in the close-catching cordon.
Broad had begun the morning hoping for 300 Test wickets. He finished level with Fred Trueman’s 307, possessor of England’s third-best figures in Ashes history, only Jim Laker ahead of him. And as Fred would have said, pipe a puffing, it was hard to know what was going on out there