On day one of the fifth Ashes Test in Hobart, Australia’s Travis Head punished England’s shoddy play with a swashbuckling century.
Taking advantage of the opportunity to bowl first on the greenest of surfaces with the pink ball, England bowled brilliantly to reduce the hosts to 12-3.
During the early pandemonium, though, Marnus Labuschagne was discarded for nought, a significant error by Zak Crawley. Labuschagne scored 44 in a quick 71-run stand with Head, who continued to rise in the England attack in a 121-run partnership with Cameron Green.
Head, who was recalled after missing the fourth Test due to COVID-19, scored his second century of the series from 112 deliveries, only to be bowled for 101 the next ball.
With more than 30 overs remaining and Australia on 241-6, Green was dismissed for 74 just before rain halted the day.
While that may appear to be a respectable score for England, the weather, the quick turnaround from the early wickets, and the potential for run-scoring being difficult for the remainder of the match-all point to Australia having the upper hand.
Hobart became the 16th field and the seventh in Australia to host an Ashes Test on an action-packed and, at times, strange day.
To add to England’s woes, Ollie Robinson only bowled eight overs due to a lower back injury.
Ollie Pope replaced the injured Jonny Bairstow, while Rory Burns returned for Haseeb Hameed, as part of a five-man change from the drawn fourth Test in Sydney. Even though Ben Stokes is in the squad, he is unable to bowl, leaving a four-man seam attack decimated after Robinson’s injury.
That does not, however, justify Crawley’s game-changing Labuschagne drop or England’s erratic bowling beyond the first hour.
Mark Wood and Chris Woakes were pricey as Head emerged from Labuschagne’s slipstream, leaving England skipper Joe Root to rely on his off-breaks.
England got a late boost by getting rid of Green, but even if they do get through Australia’s tail, there will be a concern when a vulnerable batting line-up is exposed to the home attack on the emerald green pitch.