Where Joe Root fails, England fail - and Josh Hazlewood already looks to have his number

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Contrasting emotions as Joe Root trudges off back to the pavilion as Josh Hazlewood celebrates taking the England captain's wicket for the eighth time in Tests - PA
Contrasting emotions as Joe Root trudges off back to the pavilion as Josh Hazlewood celebrates taking the England captain's wicket for the eighth time in Tests - PA

Nine balls, no runs and one wicket. This was the tale of Josh Hazlewood versus Joe Root on day one at the Gabba and you’d be forgiven for confusing which was the number one in the world at their discipline. You’re only, so the saying goes, as good as your last innings. Joe Root may be in the midst of his annus mirabilis, averaging his shirt number (66) with six centuries and 1,455 runs in 2021. But it counts for very little when you’re in the bowels of Brisbane’s Test venue, one at which England have remained winless for 35 years.

And when you’re two down for just 11, your opener out first ball of the series facing a foaming, thriving Australian pace attack on favoured home soil, those stats count for even less. Throw in too that you’re facing a man who has taken your wicket more often than any other in Test cricket. In inducing his outside edge, Hazlewood has now dismissed Root eight times in the format, in just 23 innings. Stuart Broad might think he’s got the wood over David Warner but Hazlewood has just as much of a claim over Root, the most prized of prize wickets.

While Mitchell Starc’s first ball to dismiss Rory Burns will settle comfortably into the pantheon of ‘horror-England-starts-at-the-Gabba’, it was Hazlewood’s dismissal of Root which really broke the back of England’s innings. Where Root fails, England fails; in 2021 to-date, where Root does not score a first innings century England have zero wins, five losses and two draws. Exceptions don’t come easily.

Starc’s thrilling arrival was something of a statement but Hazlewood needed less a statement and more a continuation of the form he has been sustaining for so long. He was in among the top five wicket-takers of the recent T20 World Cup, while his last Test series saw a return of 17 wickets at an average of just 19. Whether red ball or white in hand, Hazlewood is a metronome. A metronome with a bayonet lashed to its end.

No matter that England’s tail poached a few streaky runs from his afternoon spell, it was the first that did the damage. Root, the top-ranked Test batter in the world, simply had no answers. When we talk about textbook, it’s normally in the context of high elbows and aesthetically pleasing batters. Hazlewood is the bowling equivalent. His set-up of Root was as good as the ball to dismiss him. Kids, take note.

Root is the one wicket Australia want and target and their delight at sending him back to the pavilion for a duck is clear - SHUTTERSTOCK
Root is the one wicket Australia want and target and their delight at sending him back to the pavilion for a duck is clear - SHUTTERSTOCK

The consistent pace – 85mph or thereabouts – was the only similarity from one ball to the next as Hazlewood had Root guessing from the very first delivery of the sixth over. The first was on a length, a classic bit of Gabba bounce but just about wide enough for Root not to have to offer a shot. The second saw Hazlewood draw it back an inch or two and Root had to jump quickstep onto his backfoot. He did, just.

The third ball was a beauty, the best of the bunch. Line: check, length: check, nip off the pitch: check and a bit of away swing too: check. Root’s outside edge is easily beaten; the only issue with that Hazlewood delivery was that it did too much. So, when you’ve passed one edge, you may as well try and pass the other the next ball. And if you’re Hazlewood, you’ll do it too. This one, the fourth of the over, beats Root’s inside edge and strikes him on the back thigh. It’s high, and the LBW appeal is swiftly aborted but the marker has been set. All Root can do is offer a wry smile. A quick look up at the heavens and we’re into survival territory.

Alas, Hazlewood’s got a full-set up his sleeve and the fifth ball’s a classic – top of off, Root had to play and ping he’s gone, a nick safely into the hands of David Warner at first slip. It’s not even half-past midnight back home and already England’s hardy followers turn in for the night. Another Gabba Test, another England start which will go down in history for all the wrong reasons.

But if we take our partisan hats off for a moment, this Hazlewood over is one that should be watched on loop for many years to come. It was part of a gorgeous spell, of two wickets for three runs in seven overs, including four maidens. Almost two-thirds of Hazlewood’s deliveries were on a classical good length and England managed just one run from those that were. This is how to do it.

Solace for England? All summer long we’ve been talking of Ollie Robinson as a bowler in the guise of Hazlewood himself. With England’s veteran duo of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad consigned to the water-carriers on a bouncy greentop, you’d better believe it.

Listen to Sir Geoffrey Boycott's verdict on day one

"When a series starts we have hope, we have expectation — but when you only score 147 and look poor, it really hurts...Now the bowlers will have to produce an exceptional performance to keep the Ashes alive, because if England lose they'll have to win two of the next four."

Listen to the full audio briefing below

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