Andrew Strauss chuckled on the eve of the Test when asked the inevitable question about Steve Harmison's Gabba shocker back here in 2006. "I don't think it's overly helpful to mention that first ball four years ago," he said, although the issue was less the fact that Harmison missed the cut strip with that infamous delivery, but rather what it said about the nerves that take hold at the start of such a massive series. And as it turned out, even a player as phlegmatic as Strauss couldn't keep on top of his emotions - or the ball - as the series started with its now-inevitable bang. The first two balls were negotiated safely enough, but the third was shorter and straighter, and climbed off the deck as Strauss sized up the cut. Mike Hussey at gully didn't twitch a muscle as the ball thudded into his palms, and suddenly the serenity of England's start to the tour had been obliterated.
Slipping through the spinner's fingers
Xavier Doherty's introduction to Test cricket was going pretty well in the circumstances. His first delivery, in the 21st over, gripped on a good length and turned back in to Alastair Cook, who left it watchfully outside off stump, and within three balls he was jousting with Kevin Pietersen, the man whose fallibility against left-arm spin is one of the major reasons why Doherty had been preferred ahead of the offie Nathan Hauritz. Though Pietersen came after him right from the start, the rookie was holding his own ... but one ball after completing his second over, he was jolted out of his comfort zone. Cook, on 26, squirted a cut off Watson towards point, but Doherty's leap was fractionally mistimed. He got both hands to the offering, but nothing more, and a priceless breakthrough went begging. Ricky Ponting, to his credit, rushed up to give his young charge a quick pep-talk, before striding purposefully back to business.
Peter Siddle was a surprise choice for this Test match, given how effective Doug Bollinger had been for Australia throughout the past year. But when push came to shove, Ponting preferred to back the wholehearted aggression of a man whose endeavours had fallen short in England during last summer's 2-1 defeat. So in came Siddle for his first Test since January, and what an impact he made. Bowling wicket to wicket, he found enough movement to end an ominous innings from Kevin Pietersen, then did the same to Cook as his failing outside off undermined a priceless innings. After that it all happened too quickly for England. Matt Prior's loose waft found nothing but thin air, and with a raucous Gabba baying for blood, Stuart Broad was clearly unready as he rushed belatedly to the crease and tried to find his composure. Siddle, however, marked his 26th birthday with a perfect first-ball yorker, and a futile use of the referral couldn't deny him his hat-trick.
Swinging on to the straight and narrow
Shane Watson's first over was the ultimate mixed bag. His first delivery was swinging on to the pads, and Jonathan Trott helped it effortlessly through the leg-side for four; the second was a rank wide as Watto tried to readjust his line but over-compensated badly, and two further powder-puffs underlined the impression that he wasn't quite at the races. But then, just like that, he nailed his line and length. The fifth ball zipped off the deck to serve up a warning, before the sixth was simply too good for an uncharacteristically loose Jonathan Trott. Full and fuller, and angling in all the time, it burst through the gate of an unbalanced drive, to set in motion a day of rattled timbers for England.
Don't ask Brad Haddin if you're an Australian considering an umpiring review. Haddin's record in this regard remains unchanged after he backed up Siddle's roaring lbw appeal to Trott in the fourth over. Siddle had angled one in and was fluttering his arms liked an over-enthusiastic dancer at Aleem Dar, who ruled it not out. Ponting conferred with Haddin, who gets the best view, but rarely makes the right decision on reviews. The replay showed the ball was just brushing leg stump, leaving the call with Dar, and Australia were down to one challenge within 20 minutes.
Short-handed by short-leg
Simon Katich didn't do any better when he convinced Ponting to ask for the second referral when he thought Ian Bell had edged behind. Katich was at short-leg, on the other side of Mitchell Johnson's delivery, and was the only one who really believed. The slips cordon offered no initial support - not even Haddin - and Bell soon moved on smoothly from 18.
Sign of the times
There are so many sponsorship boards at the Gabba that there isn't much space free for the witty scribble on a bed sheet. Spectators have to resort mostly to strips of cardboard but even those have to be trimmed when they invade on the corporate space. One home-made sign was raised at the fall of the second wicket: "Just another Kevin to get rid of." Australia's prime minister Kevin Rudd, whose constituency includes the Gabba, was cut down earlier in the year and today Peter Siddle removed Kevin Pietersen on 43. As Pietersen departed the name on the note was replaced by "Cook"