As Josh Hazlewood lofted a Moeen Ali delivery, the ball seemed to hang forever in the air. Joe Root - who else? - camped under it and pouched a straightforward catch. England had won the first Investec Ashes test in Cardiff by 169 runs.
And it was quite fitting that Root and Ali combined to put the finishing touch on the victory.
The talk before the series began was how Australia was so much better than England, and the Aussie bowling attack would smash England to pieces. That it would be a continuation of the 5-0 thrashing from 18 months ago. That the World Cup player of the tournament, Mitchell Starc, would slice and dice through the England line-up. That Mitchell Johnson sans the handlebar 'stache would bounce the living lights out them. That number one rates Test batsman in the World Steve Smith would continue his golden run. That the normal order would return to Ashes. That the Aussies would dole out the pain. That England would just toll over and play dead.
But then, the games began. Under a cloudy Cardiff sky, Alastair Cook, in a display of “positive” cricket that seems to be England's mantra since New Zealand rubbed off on them, chose to bat. For an hour the ball swung. It was back to regular programming. The top order was shot out and at 44 for 3, there was a fleeting thought of “Oh well, here we go again.”
Then Brad Haddin was a tad late on a edge that Starc produced off Root’s bat, and just like that, the tide – and the Test – turned. Root attacked the fast bowlers in a clear show of positive play, and went about snatching the momentum from the Aussies in partnership with his Yorkshire comrade Gary Ballance. There were pulls, there were upper cuts, there were text book cover drives and there were lucky inside edges. When you try to bat in a positive manner and take the bowling on, you do need a bit of fortune to run your way, and Root had that. By the time he edged Starc to slip, his 134 plundered at the strike rate of 80 had dragged England to 280 and given them a foot in the door.
It needed someone to barge through and Moeen did just that. He cashed in on the surge Root had provided and hammered the Aussies to all parts in setting up a match winning first innings total. He provided 77 of the 137 runs England accrued while he was at the wicket, and on the morning of Day 2, was instrumental in shepherding the tail and fueling Australia’s frustration
However, it would be with the ball Moeen would cause more trouble. He only began to bowl offspin four years ago and so everyone tends to call him a part timer. But is he really? His lack of experience shows sometimes with the loose deliveries he occasionally dishes out, but his numbers are just as good as Swann's at the same stage of their careers.
Moeen is an unassuming young man. He speaks lightly but with the quiet confidence of a man who knows what he is doing. He likes it when others do not rate him. It gives him the additional motivation to prove people wrong. When MS Dhoni and India, in 2014, underestimated him and tried to make him target of their attack, he laughed all the way to the bank with 19 wickets in the series.
And so it was, when Smith and Clarke, the two batsmen most equipped to play spin in the Aussie line up, tried to take the attack to Moeen, the soft-spoken spinner defeated them both. On a wicket that was misbehaving with irregular bounce, a first-innings deficit of 122 runs was always going to be a tough hole to climb out of, even for Australia.
The second time around, England were the ones dishing out the pain.. Root joined Ian Bell and proceeded to put on a show of attractive stroke-making as the match drifted further from Australia, who ended up needing an Ashes record 412 to win the game.
Australia expected their pugnacious opener David Warner to provide the foundation for their run chase. and after surviving a torrid spell from Stuart Broad, Warner reached his half century. Australia seemed to have a toe-hold. With only a couple of minutes to the lunch break, Cook threw the ball to Moeen to have a go. With the third delivery of the over, Ali beat Warner on the inside edge to trap him plumb in front. That triggered a collapse in the second session, and Moeen came back to put the final touches after Tea.
England 1. Australia 0.
Root looks younger than his age, comes across as playful yet tough as nails, and has already been earmarked for the captaincy. Moeen looks older than his age, has a quiet demeanor, and a chip on his shoulder and is driven to prove the doubters wrong. Two young men, quite different in how they play their cricket and in how they are perceived, over the course of four days in Wales, joined hands to knock the Aussies off their perch.