Record-breaking England hit back in style
The Gabba, Brisbane
It was like stepping into some surreal parallel universe, a dream-like place where everything was the exact opposite of what you had come to expect.
England, not just untroubled but utterly dominant, flaying an Australian attack to all corners. Records tumbling at such a rate that it almost set a record in itself. Australia spilling simple catches, flinging down gaping wides, shuffling around with heads bowed.
For the record, England scored 517 runs for the loss of a single wicket in their second innings - 235 not out for Alastair Cook, an unbeaten 135 for Jonathan Trott, an unbeaten partnership of 329. It meant England salvaged a draw in the first Test after trailing by 221 runs on the first innings.
At an arena that has been the scene of almost ceaseless Aussie dominance over England, there was non-stop noise from a cavorting travelling army and barely a squeak from the home support. From Gabbatoir to Gabba-dabba-do in five sunny sessions.
On Saturday it had been a rocky horror show; on Monday, welcome to the pleasure-dome. No wonder England fans around the three-tiered stands were at times laughing with giddy delight.
Let's rattle through the caveats quickly.
The pitch was a dream to bat on, Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin put together a monumental stand of 307, England's staggering effort brought them a draw, not a win, and their bowlers struggled when given a late joust at the opposition ranks.
Then again, even the caveats have caveats. England had been bowled out for just 260 on the same pitch. Five Australian wickets went down for 31 runs in their first innings. England, 220 runs down with more than two days left, looked certain to lose.
At the start of the final day, there was a fear they still could. With a lead of just 88 overnight, a rush of early wickets could have triggered a deathly slide.
Cook set records galore at the Gabba. Photo: PA
Instead, it was Australia who fell apart. First the wheels came off. Then the wing mirrors fell off, too, followed by the bumpers, then the doors. Ricky Ponting, like a modern-day Buster Keaton, was left sitting on the ground surrounded by the wreckage, steering wheel in his hands and an utterly bemused look on his face.
If it was an astonishing sight for England fans at the ground, it must have been almost as remarkable for bleary-eyed people waking up back in snowy Britain.
Two mornings ago, radios and phones were turned on to the grisly news of that Hussey-Haddin demolition job. If Sunday's fightback had led to some jubilant pillow-punching, Monday mornings in a frozen November can seldom have seen so many whoops and beaming smiles.
There were so many records broken in England's innings it's hard to know where to start.
Cook's score was first the highest by an English player at the Gabba, beating Ian Botham's mark from 1986, then the highest by any player in Tests here, sailing past Sir Don Bradman's 226 against South Africa in 1931/2 and taking him sixth on England's all-time Ashes tally list.
Cook became only the fourth Englishman to score an Ashes double century in Australia, batted for longer (630 minutes) than any of his countrymen in a Test down under and would probably still be going, somewhere past the 300 mark, had captain Andrew Strauss not declared.
With Trott's able assistance, Cook produced England's highest ever second-wicket stand in Australia and the highest partnership by any visiting team at the Gabba.
It was the first time in Test history that England had passed 500 for the loss of only one wicket and only the second time the top three batsmen had all scored centuries in the same innings.
By the standards most of us have grown up with, Australia were almost unrecognisable.
With Trott on 75, Michael Clarke dropped the sort of slip catch you would expect to be pouched in a game of beach cricket. Other fielders saw shots slip through their fingers for boundaries, or stood motionless biting thumbnails while the gum-munching Ponting masticated with mute fury.
Mitchell Johnson, he of the pre-match promises to rough up Strauss and clatter into the rest with raw pace and aggression, returned match figures of 0-170. Debutant spinner Xavier Doherty went for 0-107 as the left-handers he was supposed to trouble made happy hay.
It was hardly any better for Ben Hilfenhaus, a threat throughout the last Ashes series in England but impotent with match figures of 1-142 here. With the exception of hat-trick hero Peter Siddle, the Aussie bowlers to come out of it with reputations enhanced were Doug Bollinger and Ryan Harris, purely by dint of being absent from the carnage.
Both are named in a 13-man squad for the second Test in Adelaide, although all 11 picked here have also been retained despite dark mutterings from locals here about Johnson's mental state and Hilfenhaus's lack of menace.
On Tuesday, players, fans and media alike will fly down to South Australia, the start of the Adelaide Test just three days further on.
Two days ago, it seemed as though Australia would have the momentum. The brilliant rearguard action of England's batsmen has made everyone think again.
"They have sent the message that England will not be a push over," said former Australia opener Michael Slater on Test Match Special. "The points go to England without a doubt."
Former England skipper Michael Vaughan agrees.
"Usually, as we go towards Adelaide, England are 1-0 down," he said. "This year, while it's not been a great start, they'll go with confidence. The question will be 20 wickets - how will England take those in these conditions?"
"There are a lot of psychological points for England," reckoned Vaughan's fellow TMS summariser Geoff Boycott. "In the past, England so often lost the first Test but they will now have great confidence because they know there's nothing in Australia's bowling and that they have batted very well in the second innings."
Although the Adelaide pitch can sometimes give help to the spinners on days four and five, it is traditionally a batsman's paradise. Only that ghastly last-day collapse four years ago prevented England strolling to a draw.
But this is a stronger, more resilient England team, one that has just batted serenely for almost two days rather than being dashed out twice in the same time period.
"I don't look at history and I don't think it should play a part in this present team," said Vaughan, who is upbeat about England's chances in Adelaide.
"Steven Finn might find it difficult with back-to-back games because it's draining mentally playing here in the Ashes with so many people watching and so much pressure on you," he said. "But Stuart Broad can go up a level and bowl better.
"Jimmy Anderson's skill levels are going up, too, and England have a good team unit. If we keep scoring 260, we will be under pressure all the time. If they can fight in the first innings like they did in the second here, then with runs on the board I am sure Graeme Swann will come into play. The next Test will be about runs on the board - England will want to win the toss and then score at least 450."