Slow start to the Ashes series can mean England’s hopes will turn to dust

England open their Ashes campaign in Brisbane on Tuesday night knowing a strong start to the series will be vital.

Australia have traditionally set the tone at the Gabba, unbeaten in Ashes Tests there since 1986 and going on to win all but one home series since.

No team has won the Ashes having lost the first Test since England in the unforgettable 2005 series and here, the PA news agency takes a look at the importance of the opener.

Recent record

Series record for teams winning the first Ashes Test (post-war)
The first Test matters in an Ashes series (PA graphic)

Seven of the 11 series this century, and 13 of the last 19, have been won by the team winning the first Test – and the exceptions include the drawn series in 2019 and drawn first Tests in 2009 and 2010-11.

Only four teams in the post-war era have won an Ashes series having lost the first Test, and England know that to achieve that feat they will have to replicate some of the most memorable series in history.

As well as 2005, affectionately remembered as the “greatest series” after England recovered from an opening defeat at Lord’s to win 2-1 with thrilling victories at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, the list also includes “Botham’s Ashes” in 1981.

On that occasion the talismanic all-rounder turned the third Test at Headingley on its head with 149 not out – Bob Willis finishing the job with eight wickets for 43 runs – then took five for 11 to prevent Australia chasing 151 at Edgbaston and added a century and a five-wicket match haul at Old Trafford.

Australia overturned a 1-0 deficit to win 3-2 in England in 1997, while the last time a team won the Ashes in Australia having lost the opening Test was way back in 1954-55.

By team

  • Australia: won 22, lost 6, drawn 3
  • England: won 16, lost 6, drawn 1

Both teams have a strong record when winning the first game of an Ashes series but Australia’s dominance is especially pronounced.

Excluding one-match “series”, Australia have opened with a win over England on 31 occasions and gone on to win 22 of those series, with England winning six and the other three finishing all square.

England have a 16-6 win-loss record after starting with a victory, with just one drawn series in 1972. Before 1997, Australia had gone 60 years without a series win in those circumstances so if England can start with a bang in Brisbane, the omens are hugely positive.

A drawn first Test is understandably less predictive, with only three such series going on to finish level. England have a 9-7 edge in the others, with one recent series in particular offering encouragement to Joe Root’s side – in 2010-11.

In Australia

Jonathan Trott, Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss, l-r, celebrate after the first Test in Brisbane in November 2010
Alastair Cook, centre, Jonathan Trott, left, and Andrew Strauss batted England to a draw to set up their 2010-11 series win (Gareth Copley/PA)

The last time a series started with a draw, 11 years ago, it culminated in England’s only series win Down Under since 1987.

The tourists will not want to rely on a repeat of that performance – with a second innings of 517 for one declared looking an unlikely prospect – but avoiding defeat in whatever fashion offers hope.

Of their four series wins Down Under since the aforementioned 1954-55 series, when England were routed by an innings in Brisbane but won the next three thanks to the pace of Frank Tyson and Brian Statham and the runs of Peter May and Colin Cowdrey, they have twice won and twice drawn the first Test.

Australia have taken the series after each of their nine opening wins on home soil in that time, suggesting that Root and co simply have to break the spell of the “Gabbatoir” this winter.