Thursday was the day the 2013/14 Ashes came back down to earth.
After a Test match in Brisbane played at 100 miles per hour with tempers fraying from the word go, the new-look Adelaide Oval calmed down the whole affair. With Australia closing on 5/273 on a flat deck, both teams are left with a lot to cheer but will be cursing missed opportunities. Australia made good progress through two steady partnerships but four set batsmen gave away their wickets, while England’s bowlers will feel let down by some uncharacteristically poor fielding, as three chances went down.
After a Brisbane Test of twists and turns, the only real surprise came with England’s team selection. Most tipped Gary Ballance, who scored 55 in Alice Springs last week, and the fit-again Tim Bresnan, to replace Jonathan Trott and the off-colour Chris Tremlett; instead, England backed raw Durham all-rounder Ben Stokes and Monty Panesar, who has endured a difficult year off the field. As Chris Rogers and Shane Watson shared 121 either side of lunch, few in the galleries viewed these as wise picks. By the close, with five Australians back in the hutch on a pitch showing no demons, it didn’t look so ill-advised.
Australia, arm in arm as the anthems were sung, won the toss and Michael Clarke unsurprisingly elected to bat. In a stop-start morning, David Warner flew to 29 before slapping a Broad half-tracker to Carberry at point. With the batsmen wary of falling after brief breaks, Rogers and Watson set about building a steady stand, milking England’s spin twins for easy singles and looking thoroughly in control. An early lunch was called at 12:15 (strangely with blue skies overhead), and the hosts looked in control at 1/46.
After the break, the pair hammered home their advantage, both reaching workman-like 50s and silencing buoyant English support. Both were subjects of interesting fields from England’s much-maligned captain Alastair Cook, who enjoyed a fine day. For Watson, Cook posted two short mid-wickets, while Rogers was faced with a short point.
With the hosts coasting past 150 and tea on the horizon, the wheels began to fall off. First, Watson tamely pushed an Anderson cutter back to the bowler, before Rogers attempted an extravagant cut off Swann and was caught behind. England pressed home their advantage as Steve Smith played around a Panesar delivery that gripped and turned on the stroke of tea.
The final session saw George Bailey, looking a Test match cricketer for the first time, score freely and Michael Clarke accumulate as England waited for the new ball. Bailey launched Panesar and Swann into the stands. Eventually, Bailey fell to a moment of brilliance as Swann took a terrific diving catch at square leg. The genial off-spinner greeted the press at the close of play by saying “I’ll allow a minimum of 15 questions about my catch”.
Clarke and Haddin saw the hosts to the close, but not without a pair of scares.
Rogers was in reflective mood at the close, arguing the pitch was not as flat as many in the outer believed.
“It felt more like a day three wicket so runs on the board is crucial,” said the Victorian. “I thought they bowled well in patches and made us work hard for it.
“You can say poor shots but these things happen.”
Swann was in typically fine form and believed that, as expected, the new drop-in has provided a typical Adelaide track: “We’re fairly pleased. It would have been ideal to get six or seven wickets but we missed a couple of chances that on another day we’d expect to take.
“We stuck to our guns fairly well. That’s a first day Adelaide pitch. It’s drier than it normally is but it’s still a bit of a featherbed.”
Key Moment: In the aftermath of Swann’s wonder-catch to dismiss Bailey, Haddin survived a close leg before review before Carberry, with the shadows lengthening and the crowd filing out, shelled a regulation chance off Panesar. With honours even at the close of play and after the rearguard damage Haddin caused in Brisbane, the England opener will be kicking himself. What’s that old saying about catches and matches?
Shot of the Day: Test cricket meet Ben Stokes; Ben Stokes meet Test cricket. The debutant from Durham had to wait a while for Captain Cook to throw him the ball for the first time and when he did, Shane Watson welcomed him by spanking him through extra cover with the sweetest of strikes.
Ball of the Day: For a long, long period in the afternoon session, there wasn’t a great deal for the Barmy Army to cheer. Then, with the fall of three quick wickets before tea, England hit their straps. With Clarke and Bailey looking green after the break, Broad and Anderson beat the bat a number of times with beauties that were simply too good for the Australian pair.
Odd spot: Rain delays aren’t the easiest of gaps to fill but the Adelaide Oval’s stadium announcer chose to use the time in a particularly peculiar manner. The crowd were treated to the sight of Nathan Lyon, in the changing room, playing rock, paper, scissors over video-link against a seemingly random Englishman in the stands. Anyone care to explain??
Tweet of the Day: Cricket Australia, what were you thinking? You didn’t have the best of times with social media up in England, when will you learn? Late on Thursday morning a picture, from Instagram, was posted, with four bearded men donning turbans dressed as “the tellietubbies”, with the accompanying caption “Will the real Monty Panesar please stand up?”. Unsurprisingly, a grovelling tweet of apology appeared minutes later.
What Friday holds: A fantastic test match is brewing in Adelaide. England certainly won’t be comfortable with Michael Clarke sitting 48 not out overnight but both sides will be optimistic going forward. Joe Root’s dropped catch at midwicket may turn out to be an expensive mistake. With 450 looking a par score, Australia’s captain and his right hand man must kick on.
Will MacPherson writes for Back Page Lead.