England won the first Test match by 169 runs and this Ashes series has exploded into life in the most brilliant fashion. No one expected this, especially on the usually soporific surface at Cardiff and least of all the Australians, who had assumed an air of superiority.
There was a hint of smugness about some of their chat pre-series, but the words spoken in their dressing room will be a lot harsher now because they were defeated handsomely.
From the moment Brad Haddin dropped Joe Root second ball on Wednesday England took control of the game.
What a shocker from Haddin. He was the verbal pugilist two weeks ago but in this match he has looked a 37-year-old playing a series too far. He is a superb competitor so he will scrap in every match but his form with both bat and glove needs to improve for Lord’s later this week.
The good news for England is there a few players for whom form is not a concern and foremost of those is Root.
His 194 runs in the match set the game up superbly for England, but it is everything he gives to the team that makes him so special. Yesterday Mitchells Johnson and Starc were offering some belated lower order resistance. Alastair Cook threw the ball to Root and he dismissed Starc. His fielding all game was exceptional and his cheeky chappie persona on the field keeps his team enjoying the game.
Is there a better player in the world at the moment? Probably not.
But it is not just Root in form for England. Moeen Ali keeps surprising but the facts cannot be argued. His moving to number eight in the order has worked beautifully as he is batting with an attacking freedom that scurries the scoreboard along with gusto and his bowling keeps taking wickets. For an off-spinner for whom it is frequently said “it is his second string” and “he is not the finished article”, he does get a lot of good players out. The three best players of spin in the Australian side are Michael Clarke, Steve Smith and David Warner and yet Moeen dismissed them all once in the match.
Ian Bell and Gary Ballance also rediscovered some runs which will help both. Quicker wickets will pose a serious challenge to Ballance and his scoring rate is so slow that he is unlikely to really hurt opponents but if he stays at the crease he is helping the more free-flowing strokemakers that follow him. Bell just oozed elegance again. Some of his cover driving in the second innings was as good as any modern English player has ever stroked.
Where England were really superior though was in the collective bowling effort.
James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Mark Wood delivered such disciplined overs, no Australian batsman ever dominated. Indeed they were forced to work for every run and to players who like to “get one over” bowlers it was purgatory.
Broad was the beneficiary of such pressure as both Smith and Clarke got out in quick succession and with them the game was lost. Much of the credit for this goes to the bowlers who were exact in their plans and execution of them – and it was noticeable how much further they pitched the ball up than the Australians – but also to Alastair Cook, who consistently got fielders in the attacking positions. There was a net of catchers behind the batsman and often a net in front, right in the eyeline.
The extraordinary aspect of this match is that, since England recovered in the first innings from the perilous position of 43-3, they have looked the better team and the most likely victors. There has been a vibrancy and joy in their play, Cook seems free of the oppression that followed him much of last year and the younger players are laughing and giggling through the days.
Their plans throughout were shrewd and new coach Trevor Bayliss, alongside Paul Farbrace, has worked hard on unpicking the techniques of the Aussies. Bayliss should know them, he is one and did coach them briefly last year for some T20 games, but plans are only as good as the players delivering them and over four days England have had by far the better players.