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The Ashes, First Test - Hussain wins toss but lost the plot

The England Captain
England's players arrived in Australia full of hope, excitement and anticipation.

Unfortunately the Ashes Tour was still in its infancy when they realised it could turn out to be the longest three months of their cricketing lives.

If any were in doubt about the strength of an Australian side being toted as arguably the greatest in history, they left Brisbane realising that their task could not be much harder if they were asked to climb Everest
wearing swimsuits and flip-flops. Australia are that good, but I know that we are not as bad as the scorebook suggests following the worst possible start to the trip Down Under.

Talking to the ISM Players
I spoke to all the ISM players before the match and believe me they were all up for it - all eager to make a quick and lasting impression while aware of the enormity of the task against the world's best side of this generation and possible any other. I shared that anticipation: looking forward to seeing our own Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan walk down the pavilion steps after Nasser Hussain won the toss and elected to bat.

The Toss
It was with bated breath that I awaited the midnight hour and then Hallelujah, the toss went our way. My former Lancashire colleague Paul Allott, now a Sky cricket commentator, asked Nasser what he was going to do and he seemed as dumbfounded as the rest of us when the captain replied: 'We're going to bowl'.

There's nothing wrong in bowling first if you have the right answers. There might be a bit in the wicket and wanting the team to settle into the series, is just not enough to justify the decision. It's easy to look back and criticise, but Nasser's pre-match comments did not give credence to his decision to bat. After eight overs, I was painfully aware of what was coming. There was hardly any swing and precious little movement off the pitch while Matthew Hayden's bat looked three feet wide.
The day and the match were just 40 minutes old when I called it a day. It would not make pleasant viewing. I awoke the following morning to have my worst fears confirmed.

Second day of the Test

At least we fought back admirably on the second day to take eight for 120 and end the day on 163-1. There were higher scores, but the highlight for me was Vaughnie's assault on Glenn McGrath, the best fast bowler in the world. McGrath was on the back foot and that doesn't happen very often. Indeed, the Aussie was probably in short pants the last time it did. With Marcus looking solid and Butcher weighing in, we had clawed our way back into the match. We might not have re-claimed the game, but at least we had sent out some positive signals.

The third day
The third day would bring another false dawn for our hopes. A couple of quick wickets and Australia regained the initiative by lunch. John Crawley will have been delighted to have seen runs against his name because he was under pressure to deliver and when you are coming in at No.6 it's not always easy particularly with a tail as long as ours. Inevitably he ran out of allies.

Australia put the match out of reach thanks to another Hayden ton and an ominous statement of intent from Adam Gilchrist, who followed his second ball duck of the first innings by smiting the first of his second for six. Plenty more runs followed, as they will throughout the series.

We were left with an impossible task and it could not have been a mouth-watering prospect seeing cracks in the wicket big enough to put your bat in with McGrath pawing the ground 50 yards away and Shane Warne sharpening his rapier. It was a question of being positive, playing session by session and trying to get to the end of the fourth day still in with a chance of saving the match. To be blown away for 79 in 26 overs was horrific and put the whole task of the next two and a half months into perspective.

Looking Ahead
No wonder our players were gutted afterwards, but they must be ready by the time they reach Adelaide. Australia will.

We have to be positive and take all the negatives out of our thoughts. There were things to be taken out of the defeat not least Vaughanie's assault on McGrath, Caddick's six wickets and a first innings where four players went past 50. But even though we had plenty of half centuries not one, unlike the Australians, went on to make a century. It is essential that potential big scores are converted.

It need not be all doom and gloom for I believe if we take the game to the Aussies then all is not lost. But if we go to Adelaide suffering from an inferiority complex then the next 10 weeks will seem like a life sentence.
Neil Fairbrother Signature

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