As the old cliché goes: strong Yorkshire, strong England. But on the opening day of the 2015 Ashes, those in attendance at Sophia Gardens were reminded that every tired maxim contains at least a kernel of truth. After a shaky opening that saw England fall to 43 for three after just 14 overs, Yorkshire’s own Gary Ballance and Joe Root stabilized the home side and led a spirited fightback on a slow, plodding pitch, putting England ahead of Australia going into the second day.
Leading up to a series such as the Ashes, simplistic, often misleading narratives abound. However, in the opening session, the match followed the media-industrial complex’s script to a T. Alastair Cook, Adam Lyth, and Ian Bell—all considered enigmas to varying degrees—combined for a meager sum of just 27 runs. English supporters, at first replete with optimism after their side’s swashbuckling performance in the ODI series against New Zealand, grew nervous. For England, the match needed saving.
Guided by an explosive Joe Root and the probing, methodical play of Gary Ballance, the two white roses constructed a 143 run partnership that thrust England back into control of the match. Root himself managed 134 runs off just 166 balls before Mitchell Starc finally claimed his wicket. Despite Root’s dismissal, England were now securely positioned at 280 for five.
An excellent first-class knock is four parts skill, one part luck. For Root, that dash of fortune came before he had managed even a solitary run. On just the second delivery he faced, Root edged a ball behind to Australian wicketkeeper Brad Haddin, who—extending to his right—briefly grasped leather. The ball, however, slipped from his palm onto the turf below. Root had survived.
In cricket, it’s easy to look back at a singular juncture and hollowly ascribe it to be the moment that changed the series. It’s impossible to say, after a single day, if Haddin’s drop will end up being a footnote or the headline when the postmortem on this Ashes is written. However, even in the immediate aftermath of drop, there was a tangible sense that a flagging England had been given a second lease on life. They seized the opportunity.
In contrast to Root’s seventh first-class century, Ballance added 61 runs the old-fashioned way, needing nearly four hours and 149 balls to accomplish the feat. Upon Ballance’s dismissal lbw to a Josh Hazlewood delivery, Root forged on with Ben Stokes, who himself managed 52 runs before being clean bowled by Starc. And, if there was even an ounce of hope that Australia would follow in the good-natured footsteps of their Oceanic neighbors this series, Starc quickly put that thought to rest.
Jos Buttler totaled 27 runs before his dismissal, and Moeen Ali added 26 runs not out before the day’s play came to an end. After nearly falling to 43 for four just hours earlier, England now stood at 343 for 7. Considering lack of pace in the pitch, it’s a total with which England surely must be pleased. If they can push on to 400 in the first half of the second day, Australia will face a daunting trek to victory.