The Ashes: England’s batsmen resilient right to the end
Centurions Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook personified the quality England prize most of all — resilience.
Strauss had not made a Test century for 16 months, and in his last 24 innings; then at the start of this Ashes campaign, three days ago, he was out for a duck to the third ball of the match.
Cook began the tour worryingly short of runs, has never before done himself justice against Australia and was being portrayed by some as an international batsman on borrowed time.
Yet if the England openers' individual narratives were hardly obvious portents for their priceless 188-run stand, an initially perilous match situation on day four of the first Test at the Gabba put their achievement into still more startling context.
Strauss (110) and Cook (132no), who began their rearguard 221 runs short of making Australia bat again, had a combined 19 to their name at the start of a cloudy morning.
But Strauss' fourth Ashes hundred and Cook's second carried the day, England closing on 309 for one — after Jonathan Trott (54no) took his cue to defy Australia too.
Cook's was a chanceless century — he escaped a half-chance hooking the second new ball to fine-leg on 103 — and Strauss had just one 'life', on 69 when Mitchell Johnson ought to have held on to a lofted drive.
The two left-handers' efforts put England in comparative comfort by stumps, 88 in front and with obvious prospects of escaping this match unscathed and starting again at Adelaide on Friday 0-0 with four to play in defence of the urn.
It could all have been very different, however, had Strauss not survived a DRS call from the first ball of the innings when Ben Hilfenhaus thought he had him lbw.
As he reflected on his and Cook's achievements, he still had wry recollections of that near miss — and his embarrassing first-innings failure.
“The third ball of the game was pretty much close to as bad as I've felt on a cricket pitch, getting out in the first over of such an important Test match,” he said.
“But that is this wonderful game of cricket; sometimes it does remind you that you need to respect the game.
“The the first ball in the second innings, I thought was a very good leave ...!
“My heart was definitely in my mouth. I did think it was a bit high — I was clinging to that hope anyway. Thankfully, it was the bit of luck sometimes you need.
“It wouldn't have been a particularly pleasant match if that one had been out.”
Strauss knew he had to make the most of surviving that scare, to prove a point for himself and his team after the draining experience of seeing Michael Hussey and Brad Haddin apparently take the game away from England with a ground-record triple-century stand.
“Yesterday was a very frustrating day for us,” he added.
“We did a lot of things right, but Australia batted exceptionally well,” he added.
“We had to come back into the game, and that meant some of our batters had to stand up and deliver — and thankfully, Alastair and I were able to do that.
“It was important I took my opportunity, and showed the way. That is one of your duties as captain.
“It is just a case of sticking to what we have done in the past.
“We have been a very resilient side; we needed to show that.”