BEN STOKES was wincing with pain, struggling to run flat-out and unable to bowl properly.
The star all-rounder’s left knee caused him plenty of grief on his first day in the field in Test cricket since March.
Ben Stokes’ knee gave him trouble on day two of the First Test MatchCredit: GETTY
Although he did manage to catch out David Warner of an Ollie Robinson deliveryCredit: GETTY
Travis Head was in fine form for the AussiesCredit: EPA
And Stokes was not alone. There was a growing assembly of wounded and weary players in the England dressing-room.
The reality of being hopelessly under-prepared for this series and devoid of meaningful match practice was striking home.
Bowlers talk about the need for miles in the legs before a big series but the combination of Covid and recent rain in Brisbane meant England’s had travelled more like feet and inches.
The result was niggles, twinges, cramps and soreness everywhere.
Ollie Robinson was excellent but even he had to leave the field for what was described as ‘strapping re-adjustment and general maintenance.’
And Jack Leach was flogged so mercilessly that his eleven overs on day two of the First Test cost 95 runs. The inability of Stokes and Leach to staunch the flow of runs put even more pressure on the rest.
Joe Root warned that people shouldn’t expect too much from Stokes in this series because he has not played a match of any sort since July and made himself available only a couple of weeks after the squad was picked.
Certainly, nobody looked more frustrated by his fitness problems than Stokes himself as he conceded 50 runs from nine overs on day two.
He will be assessed by the medics and there is no doubt Stokes’ apparent injury is a big worry for England. To have the talisman looking so forlorn undermines morale.
While England were struggling to take wickets, Stuart Broad and James Anderson were bowling flat-out in the nets at the Gabba as their omission looked more bizarre by the hour.
Saving the team’s two leading bowlers for a match under floodlights next week is not such a smart idea if England are already 0-1 down by then.
Following the batting collapse on day one, it was the turn of England’s bowlers to endure misery, much of which was self-inflicted.
David Warner, in particular, benefited from England’s generosity. He was bowled by a Stokes no-ball on 17, badly dropped at second slip by Rory Burns on 48 and should have been run out by Haseed Hameed on 60.
Head scored a dazzling century from just 85 ballsCredit: GETTY
Warner eventually fell to Robinson for 94, only one run fewer than he managed in the entire 2019 Ashes. That was the series in which Broad teased and tormented him – but there can be no repeat now, of course, because Broad was left out by England.
England bowling coach Jon Lewis admitted: “I thought our bowlers did some really good stuff but, if you’re going to be critical, you’d say we could have been more consistent.
“Every time Robinson had the ball in his hand, he was a threat and I don’t think we are a seam bowling light in our selection. If we’d all bowled to the best of our ability, we’d have put Australia under more pressure.
“It wouldn’t be one of Leach’s best days – he’ll want to put it to the back of his mind. But Jack’s a resilient fellow and he’ll come back strong.”
Robinson removed opener Marcus Harris early on day two and, after Warner and Marnus Labuschagne put on 156 for the second wicket, was later on a hat-trick when he dismissed Warner and Cameron Green with successive deliveries.
England’s other best bowler was Wood, who regularly tipped the speedo beyond 150kph and removed Steve Smith, who averages more than 100 in his two previous Ashes series, for just 12.
That came during a rare decent period for England when they reduced Australia from 166-1 to 195-5.
But Head swept the game right away with a thrilling array of shots.
Jack Leach was targeted by the AussiesCredit: AFP
He even shook off a couple of blows from Wood – one to his left arm and the other to his chin after an unintentional beamer deflected from his glove.
Robinson added: “It’s always tough when a seamer goes down, especially in these hot conditions. Ben has pace and bounce so it hurt us a little. But I thought the other boys took the slack.
“Australia’s game plan was definitely to attack Leachy, which they did as soon as he came on. It made it hard for the other seamers to keep coming back to bowl, spell after spell.”
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