Thirty years ago, an Australian side with a questionable record in England won a resounding Test match victory at the venue they feared the most. Set 402 from a minimum of 83 overs, David Gower's team were bowled out for 191 with 27 to spare, as Allan Border's collective toasted the winning feeling at Headingley after a near decade of nightmares about Ian Botham and 1981.
That result set the scene for 16 years of Australian Ashes dominance both home and away, creating such a surge of Australian confidence and belief that England held few fears so long as the tourists could play the better cricket. As Mark Taylor put it: "Looking at the 1990s when we won six Ashes in a row, things changed in 1989, with us coming over, considered an ordinary side, world's worst side, and we won. England had rebel tours going on and all of a sudden they were in disarray. It's changing the belief in their head as much as anything. I think [this Australian side] have got the talent to win this series and win it well. But they've got to believe it."
At 122 for 8 on the opening day at Edgbaston, Australia's cricketers could have been reasonably expected to be suffering from pretty shaky belief, as the familiar batting woes of the past 14 years reared in the minds of players and spectators alike. But the unadulterated batting genius of Steven Smith, rendered fresh and hungry by a year's forced absence, gave Tim Paine's team a foothold, and from there the visitors grew steadily more powerful, culminating in an even swifter and vaster victory than Headingley '89.
"It was a great one, no doubt about that," Paine said. "We didn't bat as well as we would've liked early on day one. Having said that, one, Steve Smith was still in at 8 for 122 and we know how good he is and, two, we knew that day five was going to be harder to bat than day one so if we could drag it deep enough we thought we were still in the game. Having said that we probably fell behind the game for three days so I thought the way we stuck at it and kept grinding was a real credit to our boys and the last two days we've played superb cricket."
There were, as had been the case in 1989, some questions raised about a delayed declaration, leaving England with only 97 overs to survive on a pitch that, if spinning sharply, was still true and slow. When England reached the close of day four with 10 wickets still intact, those questions grew a little louder. What transpired on the final day, however, showed that like most things since Smith fashioned a thrilling rearguard with the help of Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon, the Australians had got things just right.
A bowling attack omitting Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, both with their own form and conditioning issues, was tailored to English climes and the Birmingham pitch, critically being assembled to ensure that the hosts would never be able to pile up runs with regular boundaries. In that regard, the control of Pat Cummins, James Pattinson, Siddle and Lyon was a key factor in the victory, even when the tourists appeared to dawdle in chasing the wicket of Stuart Broad on the third day. As Pattinson said at the time, it was a tactic based around not conceding easy boundaries, and the way Australia were able to, through Smith, Travis Head and Matthew Wade, be more proactive on day four having taken the lead, was key.
So controlled was the Australian approach that it was not until the game was just about over that Pattinson strayed enough to concede three boundaries in a single over to Chris Woakes as he strained for a wicket ball. As an exception, it proved the rule about how focused and directed the Australians had been throughout. Paine spoke afterwards of only letting Pattinson go like that in circumstances where the scoreboard was well and truly in Australia's favour - a world away from the boom or bust methods tried during the Darren Lehmann era.
"That's certainly one of the key areas we want to improve on in England, and while we didn't bowl at our best in the first innings I thought the way we controlled the scoreboard allowed us to be in the position we were in yesterday," Paine said. "Had we gone at 3.5 or four an over then all of a sudden they're 140-150 in front on the first innings. So we controlled the scoreboard beautifully, our bowlers did a great job.
"James today, we were just in a position where we could throw him the ball and say run in and bowl as fast as you can and see if you can hit a few guys on the body, see if we can get some gloves and we managed to do it. But that's going to happen with Patto, we're going to use him at different times and in different ways because that's the sort of bowler he is."
To that end, the garlands for Australia's victory should not just go to Smith, Wade, Lyon and Cummins. Siddle's determination to stay with Smith on day one was mimicked in how he clung to England's batsmen throughout his numerous spells across the match, climaxing with a performance on the final day that was wicketless but arguably helped Lyon to claim each of his first three wickets - Jason Roy charging madly, then Joes Denly and Root squeezing catches to an ever alert Cameron Bancroft at short leg.
"There's still four Tests to go and we aren't here to win the first Test at Edgbaston - we're here to win the Ashes" Tim Paine
For Paine, the match had started on something of a rough note when he was singled out for stating that he could name "about 15" more intimidating venues than Edgbaston, and admitted in the aftermath of victory that this had been a "bit of a bluff". But the attention that these words gained did not detract from how the team grew in strength and confidence over five days, and a significant moment arrived when David Warner of all people was able to joke with the crowd to the extent that he turned out his pockets in response to a song about his possession of sandpaper. Australia had taken on the spectre of the Edgbaston crowd, and their own unhappy memories of Test matches here since Australia's last win in 2001, and won.
"You try to deflect as much as you can in heading into a game of this magnitude. We were fully aware of how the crowd is at Edgbaston and I think it was a little bit of a bluff," Paine said. "But we know that when you come to England you know the crowds are going to be difficult. They are at us the moment we get off the bus out the front, but we've spoken about that and have a plan for that. I thought as a team the way they all handled it was excellent. It was fantastic to come here today and the loudest supporters were the Australians, which was awesome."
Two more parallels with 1989. The first was in where Paine felt the game was won. The stand between Smith and Siddle not only helped the former captain return in glory, but also helped fire the belief of the entire team. "I think Steve Smith was unbelievable - there's no doubt about that," Paine said when asked for a match turning point. "He's the best player in the world in Test cricket at the moment. He's probably the best ever statistically, and while he's at the crease I think our team's got real confidence. I thought Peter Siddle digging in with him was crucial. Then for the majority of the game I thought we bowled pretty well - and today I thought we were superb with the ball. Having someone like Steve in controlling the game certainly helps."
In the same way Border had looked to how himself and Taylor had seen off England's seamers on the opening day 30 years ago, Leeds cloud cover and all, to set up a winning platform: "I think it came down to that first day," he said at the time. "If you think about all the bogies that go through your mind and the problems we've had here in the past Test series that I've been involved with, that put to rest a lot of the dramas we might've been thinking about."
Lastly, the euphoria of an Australian victory in Birmingham for the first time in 18 years was visibly balanced by the desire of Australia's leaders to ensure that this was seen merely as a stepping stone to the final series result. "There's still four Tests to go and we aren't here to win the first Test at Edgbaston - we're here to win the Ashes," Paine said. "We've been really clear on that for some time. We're obviously happy to win the first Test.
"It's a huge step in the right direction, but we're certainly not satisfied with that. Tonight will be quite a different feel to most Test wins we've had. We're over here to do something that a lot of teams from Australia have struggled to do. And we realise that if we can do it, it will be spoken about for a hell of a long time, and that's what is driving us. To come in in England in these conditions is difficult for us as it is for England to go to Australia. There's a big five weeks ahead of us."
In 1989, Terry Alderman had won the match award for 10 wickets at Headingley, receiving a large magnum of champagne for his trouble. In a time of heavier drinking than the present day, his stern instruction had been: "Put it on ice until we win the Ashes." Thirty years on, and the abiding sentiment from this Australian team was much the same.