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Pace-setters: five remarkable Ashes first balls





Photo: courtesy

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England's Rory Burns has an unwanted place in the record books after becoming only the second batsman to be out to the first ball of an Ashes series.

McCormick to Worthington (Brisbane, 1936)

Until this week the only man to be dismissed by the first ball of an Ashes series was Derbyshire's Stan Worthington, caught by wicketkeeper Bert Oldfield off the bowling of Ernie McCormick, also in Brisbane, to open the 1936/37 Ashes.

Worthington made just eight in the second innings and another duck, off four balls, in the third Test in Melbourne. 

Though England recovered to win the Brisbane Test, Worthington made just 74 runs at 12.33 in the series and never played for England again as Don Bradman's Australia won the Ashes 3-2. 

DeFreitas to Slater (Brisbane, 1994)

England's pace spearhead Devon Malcolm was ruled out with chickenpox on the eve of the first Test, meaning Phil DeFreitas was tossed the new ball. 

His opening delivery, just short of length and slightly wide, was far from terrible but it was slashed to the boundary by Michael Slater to herald a brutal batting assault on England's weakened attack.

Slater went on to bludgeon 176 off 244 balls as Australia made 426 and went on to win by 184 runs.

Revered Australian commentator Richie Benaud said Slater's onslaught reduced "England's bowling and general out-cricket on the opening day to a shambles". 

Australia won the series 3-1.

Harmison to Langer (Lord's, 2005)

After 18 years of Australian domination, Steve Harmison's first ball to Justin Langer, now Australia coach, changed the dynamic.

It lifted from just short of length, over Langer's off stump and whizzed past his nose. Harmison's second rocketed into Langer's right elbow.

A fearsome first hour of fast bowling followed with Harmison crashing a bouncer into opener Matthew Hayden's helmet and then splitting open the cheek of captain Ricky Ponting.

Australia won that Test but Harmison epitomised England's new-found intensity under Michael Vaughan and they took the series 2-1. 

Harmison to Langer (Brisbane, 2006)

After Harmison terrorised the Australia top order in 2005, the rematch just over a year later was highly anticipated with England having high hopes of an elusive series win "Down Under".

Harmison, so destructive at Lord's, again bowled the first ball to Langer. Again Langer did not get near it. 

The only person who did was Andrew Flintoff -- standing at second slip.

Harmison's widest of wides was swiftly mocked as the worst ball to open an Ashes series and a brittle England's confidence never recovered as they fell to a humiliating 5-0 defeat. 

Starc to Burns (Brisbane, 2021)

Covid restrictions and poor weather meant England's top order had little meaningful time in the middle going into the first Test, again in Brisbane. 

It showed as Burns's nervous footwork saw him shuffle to the offside and expose his leg stump to Mitchell Starc's full, fast delivery.

Angled towards the leg side, any batsman in good nick would have regarded such a ball as an early Christmas present and despatched it to the boundary.

But Burns is a notoriously slow starter and he fell for his sixth duck in 2021, equalling the most by an England player in a calendar year, along with bowlers Jimmy Anderson (2013) and Stuart Broad (2018).