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England v Australia: First Test review: Aussies take their chance in thriller

Edgbaston served up another thrilling Test between England and Australia as the tourists won by two wickets after five thrilling days of cricket.

Ben Stokes's side would have been hugely disappointed not to have won a game that they had been in control for much of, but to have actually lost it may have potentially more damaging repercussions down the line.

Still, on a pitch that offered very little to the quick bowlers, the result was still in doubt until Australia captain Pat Cummins struck the winning boundary in the final few overs of the fifth day.

In what has been a real rollercoaster of a match, to go that deep at least made a great spectacle for fans of either side, and could not have set up the rest of the series any better.

The players now have a little over a week to rest, celebrate or pick themselves up and get ready for the second Test, which gets underway at Lord's on 28th June.

WhatSecond Ashes Test
WhereLord's, London
WhenWednesday, 28th June 2023
How to watchSky Sports Main Event, Sky Sports Cricket
OddsEngland 11/8, Draw 4/1, Australia 13/10

England undone by missed chances

England were in the box seat a number of times during this thriller, not just including towards the end of the first day, or indeed having established a first-innings lead, but while in the field with Australia chasing their target of 281 on the fourth and fifth days.

Inevitably, having lost, there will be questions - perhaps more so from outside than within the England camp - over some of the decisions taken, not least over the first-day declaration.

Stokes himself is unlikely to take a backward step and second guess what might have happened, and, in retrospect, that does not appear the most left-field call considering England were eight wickets down anyway, even if Joe Root was batting beautifully for an unbeaten 118.

Without that declaration, the game may never have reached a position in which either side could have won it in the final few deliveries.

Again, questions could be raised about England's cavalier batting in the second innings.

However, the match may not have ended in the position if England had batted longer or put more runs on the board, setting up an absolute thriller for the fans.

A huge reason England did not win this first Test was their own failure to take the chances that their bowlers had worked so very hard to create.

There were at least eight opportunities to take a wicket that England spurned across the two Australia innings, and although all could have been key to the outcome, perhaps the most telling was the edge from Usman Khawaja late on the fourth day that went between a static Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root at first slip.

Khawaja, who scored a brilliant 141 in the first innings, was on five at the time and played the crucial anchor role on the fifth and final day, with his 65 off 197 balls going a long way to helping the Aussies' successful run chase.

That was also enough to nail down the Player of the Match award, and he is 12/1 to repeat the feat in the second Test.

Bairstow was at fault for four of the chances, of varying difficulty, but the argument over batting strength versus wicketkeeping weakness may well be raised again in this series, unless the Yorkshireman piles on the runs like he did so brilliantly last year.

Aussie game-plan comes up trumps

There has been plenty of hype around "Bazball" and how Australia were going to cope with England's aggression, while there was certainly an element of surprise in the media concerning the tourists' lack of attacking intent, particularly regarding their field settings.

However, the proof is in the pudding and Cummins will no doubt be revelling in the fact that his tactics worked, made all the sweeter by the fact he struck the winning runs in a crucial unbeaten innings of 44, after taking 4-63 in England's second innings.

The captain had gone out to bat with 72 more runs still needed, while he shared an unbroken stand of 55 with Nathan Lyon (16) to steer his side to success.

Khawaja batted brilliantly throughout and others played around him in support, and what could be good news for the tourists is they were able to win without any real contribution from the top two-ranked batters in Test cricket, Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith.

The bowling attack looks strong enough to take wickets, despite the intent of their opponents, particularly when Lyon can hold up an end on his own.

That allows Cummins to rotate his quicks in short, sharp bursts, and there is always Mitchell Starc waiting in the wings should they wish to change things up. 

Although the batters rode their luck a little, the Aussies got the job done and will have been delighted to have exorcised a few Edgbaston demons along the way.

Questions for England to answer

The biggest headaches seem to lie with Brendon McCullum and Stokes, not least the make-up of their bowling attack going into the Lord's Test.

The injury to Jack Leach has of course put England in something of a spin, bringing Moeen Ali out of Test retirement for a temporary fix. However, he was severely hampered by a finger injury in Australia's second innings, and may now be a doubt for Lord's.

What England would have given for a fully-fit frontline spinner with Australia chasing 281?

Perhaps more worryingly is the fact that Stokes himself only bowled seven overs in each innings, with constant fears over his ongoing knee problems, while the legend that is James Anderson was not given the new ball with Australia eight down.

Whether those decisions are based on form or fitness are unclear, but England need to regroup quickly if they want to win the Ashes for the first time since 2015.

No side has come from behind to win the urn since 2005 though, with Australia now strong favourites at 2/5 to be victorious again, England on offer at 15/4 and the draw at 13/2.

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