Lunch: England 302 all out
England began the second day of the First Ashes Test on 196-4 with expectations of 300, hopes of 400 and dreams of 500. For 90 miniutes, things stayed that way until…
Dawid Malan, batting beautifully having posted a patient and composed half century, ignored the bleedin’ obvious leg trap and lifted Mitchell Starc’s bouncer to Shaun Marsh, stationed 3/4 back at square leg for EXACTLY that shot.Though Starc earns some credit for flogging lift out of a plasticeney pitch, Malan’s shot was wrong in conception (it’s what Steven Smith wanted him to do) and in execution (his hands below the ball sending it up, but without the full-blooded commitment to the stroke required to clear the boundary). 56 superb runs accumulated, but a poor dismissal.
And we all know what one wicket brings and, sure enough, Nathan Lyon, who had extracted significant turn and bounce from an increasingly capricious surface, hurried one back past Moeen Ali’s bat and, though the review was Umpire’s Call on height, it looked pretty plumb.Moeen had ridden his luck, the ball often falling just short of fielders, but his 38 looked like that of a good Number 7 rather than a solid Number 6.
Chris Woakes came to the crease just in time to get a beauty from a pumped up Lyon, the batsman trying to get off the mark by forcing the ball through the covers against the spin. Perhaps it was a shot to play to one’s 104th ball rather than one’s 4th, but England’s scrambled thinking was unravelling the wonderful work of Day One, as the Australian bowlers found ways to induce errors.
Jonny Bairstow, on 0, was in the company of the tail and it wasn’t long before he top-edged an attempted drag from off to leg to give the persevering Patrick Cummins his third wicket, the England keeper pouched by his opposite number for just 9, the scoreboard displaying an anemic 270-8. It was not a good shot, but Jonny had to press on so had major mitigation.
Jake Ball’s enterprising knock of 14 was ended by a flying David Warner, round the corner at leg slip as the England seamer glanced Starc off his hip. 300, the minimum score at the start of the session, was still in the distance as Jimmy Anderson, who might have expected half a day off at least, joined Broad, as lunch was delayed, elongating an already extended session.
The two experienced England bowlers suckered the Australians into a barrage of bouncers that Broad, in particular, was happy to cross bat to the fence. Having been dropped by Shaun Marsh, Broad was soon caught for 20 in the deep by a sprawling Peter Handscomb, but the tenth wicket had gathered 16 valuable runs.
Lunch was taken with England 302 all out and it was suddenly business as usual at the Gabbatoir.
Tea: Australia 76-3
Joe Root threw almost 900 wickets of opening bowlers at debutant Cameron Bancroft and, after a few pleasing strokes, he chased a slightly wide one from Stuart Broad and Jonny Bairstow tidied up with a fine two-handed tumbling catch.
7-1 became 30-2 in the 11th over as Usman Khawja, discomfited by any lateral movement at all, seam or spin, was palpably LBW to one from Moeen Ali that hurried on to him just a little. Unlike England’s top order tyros, Australia’s Numbers 1 and 3 looked, if not quite overawed, certainly nervous as the occasion got to them.
That success brought captain, Steven Smth to the crease to join his deputy, David Warner and one felt the match move into the balance. England went full and straight to Warner aiming to tuck him up on leg stump, but wider and full of length to Smith to avoid his oh so familiar flicking of balls from outside off into the legside.
The scoreboard ticked over and the signs were ominous when Jake Ball, another relative newbie making Matthew Hayden take note of his name, induced a horrible cross-batted shovel from Warner, Dawid Malan juggling the catch at shortish midwicket, but held on. Warner was back in the sheds for just 26 and England were ecstatic.
Peter Handscomb, boasting an average above 50, joined Smith and immediately looked in form, the Aussies taking tea on 76-3, with Smith 19 and Handscomb 14, after another absorbing and hard fought session of Ashes cricket. England will feel right back in the match if they can snare Smith in the last session of the day; Australia will feel that it’s their day if the captain is still at the crease at the close.
Close of play: Australia 165-4
It felt like it would be a crucial session with the match in the balance and it could not have started better for England when James Anderson went full and spearing into the leg stump, which proved plenty enough for Peter Handscomb, LBW on review for 14.
On his eighth return to the side, Shaun Marsh had everything to prove to a sceptical public, but the selectors may have had exactly this situation (76-4, the deficit 226) in mind when they preferred his experience ahead of the potential of a Matt Renshaw or explosiveness of Glenn Maxwell. It was time to dig in.
With Stuart Broad going wide of the off stump to Steven Smith, who was determined to leave as much as possible, and Moeen Ali bowling an impeccable line and length to a well set field, Marsh could easily have forced the issue and give it away as a consequence. He didn’t and, slowly but surely, the runs started to come as the bowling’s iron discipline weakened a little.
Smith posted yet another 50, one of his slowest off 112 balls, but critical if Australia were to re-establish a foothold in the game. Marsh was as scratchy as a Thanksgiving turkey, but what mattered to him was the preservation of his wicket and, as the shadows lengthened, the runs began to flow. If there was an embarrassment of Richies (in fancy dress) in the stands, there was little levity in the grim struggle in the middle – not that any connoisseurs of the greatest of games was complaining.
It was hard work for the batsmen and hard work for the bowlers on a pitch that was giving little to either side. The umpires called time with the score 165-4, Smith on an ominous 64 and Marsh, having given everything to the cause without ever dominating, six short of his half century. As was the case 24 hours earlier, both sides could make a case for ascendancy, but most pundits will consider the match a coin toss with three days to go. Test cricket delivering its suspense yet again!