Brisbane 2002: Could England have got off to a worse start?
He called right but then he called it wrong... Richard Edwards on Nasser’s coin toss and the horrors of Brisbane 15 years ago...
Simon Jones pauses before delivering his answer... “Nasser was an astute captain, tactically very good,” he says, before adding: “Well, 99 per cent of the time.”
Rewind, and it’s November 7, 2002 and Jones, along with his team-mates, is waiting for the England skipper to return to the dressing after perhaps the most important coin toss of his career.
In the stands, expectant Australians are baying for blood. After a typically dismal start to a tour Down Under, the massed ranks of the Barmy Army are simply hoping for the best.
The coin goes up and Hussain calls correctly. Steve Waugh, his opposite number, begins mentally preparing to take to the field for the first day of an Ashes series that sees his side start as significant favourites. Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick are already mentally strapping on the pads.
“We’ll have a bowl,” says the England captain. Cue stony silence in England’s already apprehensive dressing room.
“I’m really not too sure what happened,” Jones tells The Cricket
Paper, almost 15 years on. “The Gabba is always a good wicket and if you win the toss then, generally, you have a hit first up. I’m not sure what Nasser was thinking. He had a bit of a brain fart.”
Safe to say that Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden couldn’t believe their luck, as they strode out in bright sunshine to take on an inexperienced English attack on a ground they hadn’t been beaten on for 13 years. When the stumps were drawn on day one, Australia were sitting pretty on 364 for 2, with Hayden on 186 not out.
Ricky Ponting, meanwhile, had his feet up in the dressing room, grinning broadly after scoring an equally dominant 123.
Jones, on the other hand, was nowhere to be seen...
Shortly after lunch he had embarked on a routine chase on the Gabba outfield before sliding to pick up the ball. It would be his final action in an England shirt for almost two years.
“I’d had a pretty good day up to that point,” he says. “I had just wanted to get out there and get on with it.
“There’s nothing worse than spending a day and a half, two days, just watching the game.
“I was raring to go. I felt fit, I felt strong and I had bowled really well in the warm-up games.
“I had got the wicket of (Justin) Langer, which was nice because he was an angry little man.
“To get that wicket was a great feeling because I had worked incredibly hard just to get on the tour after picking up a side niggle on my debut (the previous summer against India).
“The annoying thing for me was that, in all the warm-up games we had played, the outfields were like billiard tables.You slid on them and they were like glass... you just kept on going.
“For some reason, we weren’t told about the nature of the AFL pitch they had there (in Brisbane), and it came back to bite me hard.
“I felt this immense pain in my right knee, and I instantly knew my tour was over. I knew there was no coming back from it.”
Jones’ reaction to what looked at first to be a regulation stop immediately sparked alarm bells, with his team-mates rushing to the Glamorgan quick as he lay in a crumpled heap on the outfield.
A stretcher was whistled up, with Jason Gillespie and Steve Harmison doing the honours around the grounds perimeter. It wasn’t a smooth passage back to the changing room.
“I was in agony,” says Jones. “Harmy and Gillespie were the guys with the stretcher and a guy from the crowd decided to chip-in and chuck a can of lager at me before calling me a weak pommie b**tard. That wasn’t ideal – ‘Harmy’ nearly dropped me to go into the crowd and give him a piece of his mind.
“It was nice that Shane Warne and some of the Australian legends came into the changing room to check that I was OK, but the reality really hit when I was sat in there on my own.
“I started gathering my thoughts and I just knew I was in a world of trouble.
“The most unbelievable thing was that I was getting taken out to the ambulance and an Aussie reporter was waiting there with a camera and a microphone wanting to know how I felt. “If she had waited 24 hours I would have done an interview, no worries. But to try and grab me at that moment in time was shocking.” Jones would spend another 10 days in Australia waiting for the swelling on his knee to go down so he could travel back home for an operation that would, ultimately, save his career. Back at the Gabba, a Jones-less England were lurching to defeat against a rampant Australian side that had been utterly dominant since Hussain made his call on the opening morning. Despite an England fightback early on day two – Australia’s last eight wickets fell for just
The Gabba is always a good wicket and if you win the toss, you go and have a hit first up
114 runs – while the tourists at one stage found themselves 170 for 1, there was no coming back from an opening day performance that set the tone for a dismal series for Hussain’s men.
An excellent 72 from Marcus Trescothick, coupled with a battling 69 not out from John Crawley, got England up to 325 but they were still 169 runs short of the Aussies’ first-innings total.
And from day three onwards, it was men against boys.
Hayden followed up his monumental first-innings effort of 197 with an even more praiseworthy effort of 103 second time around. The Aussie rated it as a better innings than his first-innings dig, which he believed was blighted by lapses in concentration as a result of not eating enough due to first-day nerves.
England were left contemplating what might happen if his appetite for food matched his insatiable greed for runs.
The Aussies eventually put England out of their misery at 295 for 5, a lead of 465. Any dreams England had of a record run-chase were soon put to bed, with both Trescothick and Vaughan falling within two overs.
Jones would not watch the denouement of an all-too-predictable collapse, admitting that cricket was the furthest thing from his mind as he wrestled with what lay ahead.
England, too, must have feared for their immediate future as Australia skittled them for just 79 in 28.2 overs of unrelenting aggression. Glenn McGrath took four wickets, while Warne chipped in with three.
Hussain was a captain under fire following his decision to insert the home side on day one.
Defending himself in his Sunday newspaper column, he wrote: “I did not do so (put them in) in the expectation that the wicket would play like a seamer’s green-top and we would bowl them out in a couple of sessions.
“What I was hoping for was that we could make enough use of the conditions in the first session or two to limit Australia to 300 for five or six wickets by the end of the first day – not an unrealistic objective.”
With Jones firing, he might have been right. Fate, though, dictated that both men would live to regret an opening day that will live long in the memory.
For all the wrong reasons...
Day-one wonder! Damien Martyn congratulates Matthew Hayden on his century
Wrong call: Nasser Hussain
Broken: England physio Kirk Russell attends to the injured Simon Jones after Jones had made an early impression with the wicket of Justin Langer, inset