Ben Stokes was winning with pain, struggling to run flat-out and unable to bowl properly.
He was deeply pained by the star all-rounder’s left knee on his first day in Test cricket since March.
And Stokes was not alone. In the dressing room of England, the crowd of injured and tired players was increasing.
The reality of being hopelessly under-prepared for this series and devoid of meaningful match practice was shocking at home.
Bowlers talk about needing miles in feet before a big series but the combination of Covid and recent rains in Brisbane meant England had traveled more like feet and inches.
The result was niggles, tingling, cramps and pain everywhere.
And, wow, how Travis Head took advantage of England’s exhausting attack by scoring a dazzling century in just 85 balls – the joint third-fastest in Ashes history.
Ollie Robinson was excellent, but even he had to leave the field for what he described as ‘strapping re-adjustment and general maintenance’.
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And Jack Leach was beaten so mercilessly that 95 runs were spent in his eleven overs on the second day of the first Test. Stokes and Leach’s inability to stop the flow of runs put even more pressure on the rest.
Joe Root warned that people should not expect too much from Stokes in this series as he has not played any matches since July and made himself available only weeks after being selected for the team.
Certainly, no one looked more disheartened by his fitness problems than Stokes as he conceded 50 runs in nine overs on the second day.
He will be evaluated by the doctors and there is no doubt that Stokes’ apparent injury is a big concern for England. Such a sad look of the talisman weakens morale.
As England struggled to pick up wickets, Stuart Broad and James Anderson were bowling flat-out in the nets at the Gabba as their omissions seemed more bizarre by the hour.
Saving the team’s two key bowlers for a match in floodlights next week is not such a good idea if England are already down 0-1.
After the collapse of the first day’s batting, it was the England bowlers’ turn to bear the brunt, much of it self-inflicted.
David Warner especially benefited from this generosity of England. He was bowled by a Stokes no-ball for 17, was dropped by Rory Burns for 48 at second slip and should have been run out for 60 by Hasid Hameed.
Warner eventually fell to Robinson for 94, which was just one run short of what he had managed throughout the 2019 Ashes. This was the series in which Broad teased and tormented him – but there can be no repetition now, of course, as Broad was abandoned by England.
England bowling coach John Lewis admitted: “I thought our bowlers did something really good, but if you’re going to be critical, you’d say we could have been more consistent.
“Every time Robinson had the ball in hand, he was a threat and I don’t think we are a fast bowler in our selection. If we all bowled to the best of our ability, we would have put more pressure on Australia.
“It won’t be one of Leach’s best days – he’ll want to put it in the back of his mind. But Jack is a resilient fellow and he will come back strong.
Robinson removed opener Marcus Harris early in the second day and, after Warner and Marnus Labuschagne put on 156 for the second wicket, the latter was on a hat-trick when he dismissed Warner and Cameron Green in successive deliveries.
England’s other best bowler was Wood, who regularly tipped the pace beyond 150kph and removed Steve Smith, who has averaged over 100 in the last two Ashes series, for only 12.
It came during a rare decent period for England as they reduced Australia from 166-1 to 195-5.
But Head immediately blew up the game with exciting shots.
He even struck Wood twice—one on his left hand and the other on his chin when the beamer inadvertently took off his glove.
Robinson said: “It’s always tough when a seamer goes down, especially in these hot conditions. Ben has the pace and bounce so it hurt us a little bit. But I thought the other boys were lethargic.
“Australia’s game plan was definitely to attack Litchi, which they did as soon as he arrived. This made it difficult for other fast bowlers to come back to bowl after the spell.
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