The Ashes: Why England can still beat Australia despite heavy first-Test defeat

By Stephan ShemiltChief cricket writer

OK, so Brisbane wasn't great.

You wonder if for future Ashes trips England would be better asking to skip the Gabba and accept being 1-0 down. It might be less damaging.

More often than not defeat in the first Test of a tour down under has meant England surrendering the Ashes. Recently, a slaughter at the Gabbatoir has been the beginning of bloodshed all over Australia.

And, yes, there are loads of reasons why Australia will canter towards retaining the urn - form, Pat Cummins, England's frailties, Travis Head's moustache.

But there are also plenty for England to be optimistic. Honest.

England leave Brisbane with a 'different perspective' - Root

In the pink

If you think England's 35-year winless run in Brisbane is bad, then consider the horrific record in Perth, where their only victory came back in 1978.

The traditional Ashes schedule of Brisbane first, Perth third was one of the main reasons for England being beaten before Christmas on three of their past four tours down under.

Even though the new Optus Stadium has replaced the fortress of the Waca, and England weren't actually due to go to Perth until the fifth Test this time around, the thought of ending the tour in Western Australia would have been enough to give them the heebie jeebies.

However, Covid has forced the series finale to be switched to Hobart, with the cooler, wetter climate in Tasmania as close as England are ever going to get to 'home' conditions in Australia.

Not only that, but the fifth Test joins the second in Adelaide as a day-nighter played with a pink ball, theoretically offering greater movement for England's skilful bowlers - and possibly the returning James Anderson and Stuart Broad - to exploit.

In between Adelaide and Hobart come matches in Melbourne and Sydney, the two grounds where England have had most success in Australia.

If Joe Root's side are to get back into this series, they couldn't have asked for a kinder schedule.

Rockin' Robinson

So often we hear of England being outgunned in Australia. It is true that recent trips have seen the tourists bullied by pace, which is why it was so encouraging to see Mark Wood having home batsmen hopping around at the Gabba as the fastest bowler in the match.

However, speed alone doesn't lead to success in Australia. Line, length and, crucially, bounce are key. Just think of the attributes possessed by Glenn McGrath.

Enter Ollie Robinson, the most McGrathian bowler England have ever produced and a man who enjoyed a fine Ashes debut in Brisbane.

Robinson releases the ball from a height few in the global game can match and, when added to the movement he extracts, the Sussex seamer looks ideally suited to bowling down under. At the Gabba he particularly troubled Australia's plethora of left-handers.

In a series of five back-to-back Tests, Robinson's ability to bowl spell after spell could also be important. He says his nickname of 'the Rig' is due to his tirelessness, even if some of his friends says it's because of a lack of abs.

Either way, England should be building their attack around Robinson for the remainder of the series.

Aussie issues

For once, Australia are the ones with injury problems to contend with.

Josh Hazlewood will miss at least the second Test with a rib problem - the sort of issue that can put a fast bowler on the shelf for some time.

When you consider that Mitchell Starc hasn't played five Tests in a series since 2015, Australia might be left in a tricky position when it comes to juggling their pace-bowling resources.

From the other options in their squad, Jhye Richardson is a fine bowler but inexperienced at Test level, while Michael Neser is an uncapped 31-year-old.

It could be that England have the greater depth when it comes to pacemen.

The hosts say David Warner will be fine after taking a blow to the ribs batting at the Gabba, however it's not ideal that he wasn't able to take part in the second half of the match.

Also, keep an eye on the form of Warner's opening partner Marcus Harris, who was out for three in the first innings at Brisbane and is without a half-century in his past 12 completed Test knocks.

Root the runs

What was clear before the series began was reaffirmed in Brisbane: England will not regain the Ashes unless Root gets a lot of runs.

Thankfully, after the horror of his first-innings duck, he was back to his best in the second innings, batting with the rhythm, intensity and authority that has seen him break the record for runs scored by an England player in a calendar year.

Even Nathan Lyon, the least likely candidate to dish out praise to an Englishman, called Root the best batter in the world.

Yes, a first Ashes hundred in Australia still eludes Root, but the early signs are good, especially if he can continue to receive support from Dawid Malan, who looks born to bat in Australia.

Now the others need to contribute.

Bad memories

It's worth remembering that India were in a far, far worse position than England around this time last year.

Bowled out for 36, 1-0 down, captain Virat Kohli on the way home and a lengthy injury list.

What followed was a stunning comeback for one of the greatest Test series victories of all time.

Australia have got form when it comes to being on the wrong end of turnarounds - coach Justin Langer admitted to having nightmares about what Ben Stokes did at Headingley in 2019.

If England can put the Aussies under pressure, especially with Cummins so new to captaincy, it will be fascinating to see how they respond.

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