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Jonathan Agnew column

First Ashes Test, Brisbane
Dates: 25-29 November Start time: 0000 GMT Coverage: Listen live to Test Match Special on BBC 5 live sports extra, Radio 4 LW and online (UK only). Watch live on Sky Sports 1, highlights on ITV 4

James Anderson
James Anderson celebrates taking the wicket of Shane Watson at the Gabba

Jonathan Agnew
By Jonathan Agnew
BBC cricket correspondent

In Test cricket we always talk about the next stage of the match being crucial, but it is certainly true for England in Brisbane, with the morning session on Saturday now terribly important.

With Australia 220-5, England still have a lead of 40 and the new ball is ready to go straight away. Because we lost time on Friday we will have an earlier start, so there might be some moisture around and the ball could nip about a bit.

England must use everything to their advantage because they cannot afford to concede too much of a lead after the first innings - 50 can soon be cleared, but you would not want any more than that.

Overall, I thought England bowled really well at Australia. In the first hour of the day they set some strange fields, but once they scrapped all that and got back to basics they performed effectively as a unit.

606: DEBATE
Vegas

They should have taken more than one wicket in the morning but got a bit of luck they deserved straight after lunch when Ricky Ponting was caught down the leg-side and James Anderson bowled an absolutely brilliant spell in the afternoon.

There is no doubt that after that display, Anderson will have answered a few questions in his mind about whether he is capable of performing on these Australian pitches, which is something we've all wondered about.

He couldn't rely on the ball swinging but found a great line, got a bit of nip off the seam and concentrated on the channel outside off stump, it was great stuff. He beat the bat countless times and was the bristling, aggressive Anderson - I don't mean in the sense of bowling silly bouncers - you want to see.

He is the leader of the England attack, so much so that they call him 'bowling captain'. One of the big question marks about this series was whether Anderson could be effective with this Kookaburra ball in these conditions, and he's shown he has a real role to play.

One man who didn't enjoy such a good day was off-spinner Graeme Swann. I think that was the worst I've seen Swann bowl in a very long time, but if I'm honest, I don't think he's bowled at his best on the whole tour so far.

The Australians who doubted him now know that Finn is to be taken seriously in this series

He sent down so many long hops, especially to Michael Hussey, who he is very strong off the back foot, and [former England captain] Michael Vaughan made the point that on these harder pitches, if you drop short the ball stands up more to be hit, which makes length even more critical.

I don't think it was a case of Australia getting after him, hitting him out of the attack which we thought might be a possibility, it was just that he didn't bowl well.

Looking at his demeanour, Swann was clearly chastising himself for the way he performed, but with Australia set to chase a target in the final innings he has still got a huge role to play in the Test match.

The same is true of Steven Finn, who produced a great spell, took a brilliant low catch off his own bowling - especially for a man of 6ft 7in - and showed he is here to stay in this series.

I've never doubted his talent. For a young man he's very mature, very easy-going, he's got an uncomplicated action and he's just a very strong performer.

Some of the Australians who doubted him until today were very impressed with him in the afternoon and they now realise he is to be taken seriously in the Ashes.

It's obvious already that the series is going to be desperately close. Both teams are struggling with their batting, though for different reasons. England aren't yet in the habit of putting big scores on the board, while some of the Australian batsmen are struggling with confidence, but it is already making for an enthralling contest.

Jonathan Agnew was talking to BBC Sport's Jonathan Stevenson.


Listen to the Ashes live on Test Match Special on BBC 5 live sports extra, Radio 4 LW and online (UK users only) - series starts 25 November 2010.
Archive: Relive past Ashes series



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see also
Defiant Hussey frustrates England
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Early start suits England - Finn
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First Ashes Test in photos
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Jonathan Agnew column
25 Nov 10 |  England
Watch BBC Sport's Ashes trail
19 Nov 10 |  Test Match Special
England in Australia 2010-11
08 Oct 09 |  Cricket
Live cricket on the BBC
26 Oct 11 |  Cricket


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