At Brisbane, November 21-24, 2013. Australia won by 381 runs. Toss: Australia. Test debut: G. J. Bailey.
As overwhelming as it was unexpected, Australia's victory in the First Test was only three runs shy of the slaughter of England here 11 years earlier. Paradoxically, however, the similarity of the result only served to underline the contrast between the two series. In 2002-03, Australia had fielded their most dominant side of the modern era, led by Steve Waugh. England, on the way to a dispiriting eighth straight Ashes defeat, had lost Simon Jones to a long-term injury on an opening-day disaster that began with Nasser Hussain's decision to field. Those were the days when, so complete was Australia's command, some questioned whether Ashes series should be shortened to three Tests.
Fast forward to 2013-14 and Australia, having just lost their third consecutive Ashes, were racked by injury and division. Their new generation of fast bowlers was sidelined and, in seeming desperation, the selectors had returned to Mitchell Johnson, more or less a Test discard in recent years after some poor outings against England. George Bailey, the 31-year-old captain of Tasmania who had excelled in one-day internationals but underdelivered in first-class cricket, was given a Test debut, leaving Australia with seven players over the age of 30. They appeared to have the worst of both worlds: aged, yet also inexperienced.
The character of Clarke, meanwhile, was taking its customary battering from former players. The only voices who held any conviction in their statements that Australia had improved markedly during the 2013 English summer were those emanating from within the camp. But even those claims were carrying a hint of bravado: Australia's batting collapses at Trent Bridge, Lord's and Chester-le-Street had borne the outward signs of inner crisis.
England's lead-up to this match had not been perfect, with the warm-up game in Hobart badly disrupted by rain, and Prior in doubt until shortly before the Test with a calf injury. There was every expectation, nonetheless, that their experience and psychological edge over the Australians would set them right. The first day reinforced this, as Australia's top-order batting capitulated again. Some of England's team, notably Broad and Pietersen, had been targeted by a Brisbane newspaper with a campaign that had the odour of a joke told against an outsider in a country pub, funny only to the teller. Broad, with five wickets on the opening day, was able to respond with a smile, and Pietersen would surely produce a big innings in his 100th Test. A sobering headline came from The Australian, which next morning pronounced: "New Location, Same Old Story".
But England's success also gave notice of coming danger. Broad's wickets were achieved through his ability to extract steep bounce from a compliant Brisbane surface. A counter-attack in the last session from Haddin and Johnson, however, threw up another alert, as Swann was unable to get the turn or the variable bounce he had exploited so well back home.
Still, England's upper hand extended into the second morning, as Australia lost their last two wickets cheaply, before Johnson and Harris produced fast but wayward opening spells. Even the dismissal of Cook, driving and edging a full-length ball from Harris, as if it was the English summer all over again, seemed merely to inconvenience them. Then, in the last over before lunch, came the turning point: Trott was at sea against a predictable short-pitched attack from Johnson and, flapping away from his body at a ball he should have left alone, was caught down the leg side by Haddin, who in his 50th Test became the second-fastest wicketkeeper to 200 dismissals, after Adam Gilchrist (47). The mood changed entirely.
Carberry, playing his second Test more than three years after his first, and Pietersen looked to consolidate after the break, before Pietersen - dropped by Siddle off his own bowling when eight - carelessly drove Harris to short midwicket. Johnson now mounted a round-the-wicket assault on Carberry, who had been becalmed by the introduction of Lyon and his top-spinning flight, better suited to the conditions than Swann's futile search for more conventional side-spin. The onslaught ended gingerly, with a poke to slip.
Lyon quickly removed Bell and Prior with successive balls, deceiving them with bounce and obtaining near-identical catches by Smith at short leg. By the time Root - squirting to gully and providing Smith with his third catch in nine balls - and Swann were dismissed by Johnson, England had lost six for nine. In one humid Brisbane half-hour, the balance between the teams had been turned upside-down.
England's Black Friday did not improve when the Australians returned to bat with a 159-run lead. Warner, the most positive of the home batsmen on the first morning, opened up with a blazing back-foot square-drive off Anderson, and Rogers - unsteady in the first innings - settled into a supporting role. They added 65 to Australia's lead before stumps, confirming their best day of Test cricket in two years since the visit of India. Recent history, though, suggested they would struggle to string such days together, and the early exchanges on the third morning confirmed the hunch. Rogers and Watson succumbed to the bounce of Broad and Tremlett - playing his first Test since January 2012 - and the atmosphere was thickening, along with the rain clouds, when Clarke joined Warner.
Broad had often attacked Clarke early with short-pitched bowling in England. By the Fifth Test at The Oval, the tactic appeared to be grinding Australia's captain down, and in the first innings here he had been caught out of position by the first bouncer Broad gave him. Now, England treated Clarke with contempt, dropping the field to gift him a single off Anderson so that he would be on strike to Broad.
England's hopes proved short-lived. Broad gave Clarke three full balls, which he defended, and two bouncers, which he swatted for four. Some more short stuff was attempted, but Clarke was in an aggressive mood and blunted the tactic; England's seamers, after being given only four hours' respite by their batsmen, lacked their first innings edge. Perhaps saving it for another day, they reverted to more conventional fare.
Clarke and Warner added 158 in 29 overs either side of lunch, taking the game away from England and reserving their most belligerent batting for Swann, who was hit out of the attack twice within half an hour. Warner and Clarke both recorded rapid centuries. For Warner, it was the first for a year and a day; for Clarke, it was his 25th in Test cricket, and a return to the confidence he had shown in his previous two, record-breaking, home summers. By the time both were out, the match was beyond England. Smith and Bailey - Swann's 250th Test victim, achieved uniquely within five years of his debut - failed fully to capitalise, but more attacking batting from Haddin and Johnson, a reprise of their first innings, allowed Clarke to choose his time to declare. Haddin took the lead past 500, and stole a glance at the dressing-room.
The captain did not appear, and Haddin proceeded to play like a child whose parents had forgotten his bedtime. Clarke was concerned not about the size of the lead, but about the number of overs he wanted to give his bowlers that night. In the hope of keeping them fresh, and the ball new, for Sunday morning, he declared with an hour to go. Johnson and Harris were as hostile as ever and, to England's dismay, the pitch was not flattening out. Backed by a noisy Brisbane crowd, Harris dismissed Carberry with a short ball that bounced down off the bat, between the pads, and on to the wicket. The small things were going Australia's way. Trott batted in uncharacteristic fashion again, trying to respond positively to Johnson's barrage, but only spooning a catch to backward square leg. Some stout defending from Cook and Pietersen saw England to stumps, but Australia had been dominant for a second day in a row.
Spectacular thunderstorms drenched Brisbane that night, and England's best hope seemed to be more early-summer rain. However, the Sunday downpour would be a false friend. Cook and Pietersen batted with resolve through the first hour, but then came a break for drinks - and in Pietersen's concentration: a top-edged flick off Johnson flew to fine leg, where substitute fielder Chris Sabburg, a 23-year-old Queenslander and former fruit-picker whose senior cricket had been limited to half a dozen games for Brisbane Heat, held on.
England's aspirations for one long partnership rested with Cook and Bell. As their alliance began to blossom on the fourth afternoon, the thunderclouds moved in, and the ground staff brought their tractors and covers to the edge of the field. Shortly before the storm hit, Siddle cramped Bell, who couldn't pull his bat away before edging to Haddin. So when the rain - which quickly turned into hail - intervened, Cook was the only senior batsman left. When play resumed 90 minutes later, Australia looked refreshed, England wary. Cook was undone by Lyon's bounce, and edged a cut, before three more wickets fell as Lyon and Johnson homed in on a weakness against the rising ball, whether slow or fast. Another short rain-break hardly held Australia up. England, who had lost their last eight wickets for 54 runs on Friday, now lost their last seven for 49.
Like many teams who have been short on swagger, Australia now played with an excess of it. This boiled over in the last minutes of England's second innings, when Clarke and Anderson exchanged words, which resulted in Clarke, whose expletive was broadcast via the stump mike, being docked 20% of his match fee by referee Jeff Crowe. More seriously, it emerged that Trott had been suffering with a stress-related disorder and, after consultation with the team management, left the tour. His departure put into perspective the fractious on-field atmosphere, and sent an implicit warning to all. In cricketing terms, England were left with not only a 1-0 deficit, but a hole at the top of their order. They had ten days between Tests to restore their self-belief and come to terms with the conditions. Australia's task was to manage their exuberance. This, as a prelude to the Adelaide Test, was the most unexpected outcome of all.
Man of the Match: M. G. Johnson. Attendance: 122,910.