While England are licking their wounds after man-of-the-match Steve Smith’s glorious two centuries in his return Test inspired Australia to a stunning turnaround at Edgbaston, the lessons of the past have convinced them not to get ahead of themselves.
Four years ago Australia celebrated hard after a 406-run annihilation of England in the second Test at Lord’s, only to be thrashed in the following matches at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge and surrender the Ashes in a fourth consecutive series loss to the old enemy abroad. They are eager for history not to be repeated.
“You’ve got to keep a lid on it,” Paine said. “There’s still four Tests to go and we aren’t here to win the first Test at Edgbaston – we’re here to win the Ashes.
“We’ve been really clear on that for some time. We’re obviously happy to win the first Test. It’s a huge step in the right direction, but we’re certainly not satisfied with that. Tonight will be quite a different feel to most Test wins we’ve had. We’re over here to do something that a lot of teams from Australia have struggled to do.
“And we realise that if we can do it, it will be spoken about for a hell of a long time, and that’s what is driving us. In England in these conditions [it] is difficult for us as it is for England to go to Australia. There’s a big five weeks ahead of us.”
They have so far handled those conditions well, including the much-discussed atmosphere for the Test comebacks of Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft at Edgbaston. Paine received plenty of air time for his provocative pre-match assessment that he “could name you 15” more intimidating grounds. He said on Monday it was “bluff”, one that has played rather well in the wash-up.
Smith is among the players who won’t figure in Worcester, although the obsessive trainer may be hard pressed to take a break. The tour game shapes as an opportunity, though, for fast bowlers Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood to issue a reminder to selectors after being left out in Birmingham.
“I wouldn’t argue with [Smith’s] preparation,” Paine said. “He’s the best player in the world in Test cricket at the moment. He’s probably the best ever statistically, and while he’s at the crease I think our team’s got real confidence.
“I thought Peter Siddle digging in with him [in the first innings] was crucial. Then for the majority of the game I thought we bowled pretty well – and today I thought we were superb with the ball. Having someone like Steve in controlling the game certainly helps.”
Lyon rose to the challenge brilliantly on the last day with the second five-wicket haul of his career in a fourth innings of a match, passing 350 Test wickets on the way to put him in a club that only Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Dennis Lillee have membership among Australians. His complete hold over England counterpart Moeen Ali – he now has dismissed him nine times in 11 innings – was a mere sideshow on Monday as he knocked over most of the top order including key man Root.
“The ball is coming out as well as ever,” Paine said. “He’s a bit the same as Smithy, I feel like every Test match or series they seem to get better which is astonishing at their age. But I think if you come and watch both of them train you see why they keep improving and keep getting better and are a great example for the rest of our group.
“No doubt the pitch had worn but I thought he was threatening in the first innings as well. Nathan has played on all different surfaces now and knows exactly what he is doing in all different situations. I think he bowled a bit quicker which he tends to do over here because he doesn’t get the bounce he gets in Australia or the turn as consistently. He controlled it beautifully and he is going to be a real threat. He can take day-five wickets and when you have a spinner like that it can change a game very quickly.”
Cummins was also outstanding after being short of his best earlier in the match, becoming the second fastest Australian fast bowler to 100 Test wickets in terms of matches played behind Charles Turner in the 19th century.
“I think he said he just struggled in the first innings for a little bit of rhythm, which can happen, he hasn’t played a hell of a lot with the red ball in the last six months,” Paine said.
“It was also a big series and something he wanted to have a real impact on so I think there was probably a little bit of nerves as well which was totally fine.
“I don’t think he was on his own there but I think he settled into the Test match beautifully and the way he set the tone for our team this morning was exactly what we want from Pat Cummins. Now he’s settled into some rhythm I think he’ll just get better and better.”
Chris Barrett is Sports Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.