England yet again had no answer to Brad Haddin as their experiences on day one of the Sydney Test neatly encapsulated a miserable Ashes campaign.
Even Ben Stokes, whose maiden five-wicket haul included three in one over – and finally that of centurion Steve Smith (115) – admitted at stumps that wicketkeeper Haddin has England very much on the back foot.
Before Haddin (75) and Smith launched a punishing stand of 128, the tourists appeared – not for the first time on their way to a 4-0 deficit, with one to play – to have Australia in a spot of bother. Instead, the hosts recovered to 326 all out, and then England lost opener Michael Carberry in a reply of eight for one as Mitchell Johnson took his series wickets tally to 32.
Stokes finished with six for 99 but was as powerless as any of his team-mates to stop Haddin.
“When he came in today and started hitting it back over your head, you stand there scratching your head and thinking ‘this isn’t meant to happen’,” said the Durham all-rounder.
Haddin passed 50 for the sixth time in the series – from number seven. Australia had lurched to 97 for five when he arrived to change the game again in company with Smith, who went on to three figures on his home ground.
“It’s just the way he comes out and plays his natural game straight away, whatever the situation is,” added Stokes. “Quite a lot has gone his way. But fair play to him ... he’s taken every chance he’s had to get runs.” Smith too was unsurprisingly impressed by his sixth-wicket partner. “Brad was great to bat with. I sort of just took a back seat and just watched him go - and the way he played his shots today was brilliant.”
Haddin’s gameplan involved measured counter-attack, and an innate ability to get under the opposition’s skin with his on-pitch persona.
“I’m not sure if it has a negative impact on the English players,” added Smith. “I think Brad enjoys getting into a little bit of banter on the field, and he certainly thrives when the English players are coming at him.
“The way he is striking the ball this whole series, I [wouldn’t] really know where to bowl.”
England responded with a loss of discipline at times, as Stokes later conceded. “I think we were a bit guilty of dropping it a bit too short today. Our goal as a bowling unit was to try and hit top of off [stump] as much as we could – the best place to bowl on that wicket. Next time we come out we will be more correct on that. We just need to start stringing more dot balls and maidens together – which creates pressure, as we did this morning.”
He was prepared to give Haddin due credit nonetheless. “We started really well. Then Haddin and Smith counter-attacked ... and I think they probably ended up getting about 50 or 60 too many, more than we’d have liked. When a guy is playing like that, I guess you have to hold your hands up to him.”
England’s predicament was not helped by the fact Boyd Rankin, one of three debutants here, twice limped out of the attack. The giant Ulsterman had treatment even before taking the field but not to alleviate the apparent hamstring pain he subsequently suffered. Still more perplexing, after being sent for a scan which revealed little, the conclusion was that – despite having bowled less than nine overs – his problem was merely cramp. “He’s fine,” said Stokes. “It was just a bit of cramp, which is pretty normal in Australian heat – so I think he’ll be good to go in the next bowling innings.”
The other bowling debutant, Scott Borthwick, at least claimed his first Test wicket on day one but he was expensive, too.