Sport Cricket England with a mountain to climb

England with a mountain to climb

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With honours even at the end of day one and with Perth to come, Friday was always going to be a key day not just in the context of this test match, but the series as a whole. By the end of the day, with England at 1-35 – 535 behind and their captain’s off pole uprooted – Australia had grabbed the match by the scruff of the neck, leaving the visitors an uphill battle to save, let alone win, this most crucial of test matches.

On a day that began with a minute silence to mark the sad news of Nelson Mandela’s passing, the cricket continued at a sedate pace. The morning session passed without a wicket falling, but not without incident, as the tourists were made to toil for two hours that must have felt like two days.

Michael Clarke, resuming on 48, looked uncharacteristically jittery as he lobbed the first delivery he faced into the off-side with an ungainly leading edge. From there, he batted with a freedom not seen the night before, seemingly notching milestones with every stroke he played. In the course of his supreme 148, his second ton in consecutive innings, he passed 1000 test runs for the calendar year and scored a record-equalling sixth Adelaide Oval century, making England’s five-man attack look positively pedestrian.

Brad Haddin, dropped by Michael Carberry last night, also struck the ball sweetly and brought up his half-century without incident. With the field spread, the pair were able to milk the England bowlers for singles with ease, but Haddin gave the ball some tonk too, the spinners, Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, being sent to the stands twice each. He was lucky to survive when Ben Stokes, the quickest of England’s seam trio, overstepped as Haddin groped outside off and was caught behind. The pair exchanged the first lively verbal exchange of a Test match that had to that point seemed a far cry from the pyrotechnics of a fortnight ago at the Gabba.

Clarke was imperious and Haddin industrious as the afternoon heat wore away for England’s fielders and no bowler was able to consistently trouble the pair, who scored all around the wicket in their partnership of 200. Alastair Cook experimented – trying Stuart Broad around the wicket and a silly mid-off to Clarke, but to no avail. The only way Cook’s side looked like making a breakthrough was with a breakdown in communication between the wickets; once, Carberry’s poor throw was not enough to beat Clarke before the captain survived a tight call as Carberry and Panesar combined.

The pair passed the highest sixth-wicket stand at the Adelaide Oval and Haddin brought up the 200 partnership with a six over midwicket, before Stokes finally picked up a well-deserved first test wicket as Clarke popped it up to James Anderson at square leg. From there, wickets fell at regular intervals, but not without some more willow-wielding from the hosts. Mitchell Johnson was caught at mid-on off  Swann and Peter Siddle nicked Stokes to Matt Prior. Between these wickets, Haddin pulled the allrounder to the midwicket fence to reach his century.

With the score on 8/516 at tea and the declaration imminent, Ryan Harris teed off. He had brought up the 500 with consecutive sixes over midwicket off Swann and reached his first 50 on Australian soil after the break. England’s bowlers seem delighted to see the declaration finally come at 5-570.

England’s openers will have known they were in for a tough assignment but with Cook, who averages 32 in his last 25 Test innings, not looking his old self, Johnson bowling at ferocious pace and a baying Adelaide crowd, it was little surprise to see the England captain’s off stump leaning back in the third over.

Carberry, who spent most of the evening ducking like a man on an open-top bus approaching low bridges, and Joe Root, newly promoted to first drop, reached the close, but not without incident. Nathan Lyon extracted turn and bounce, whilst Johnson, Harris and Siddle all bowled with a nip that England’s bowlers were unable to summon. The pair had shown a good deal of composure but the final two balls of the day provided plenty of excitement. On the penultimate, Root called for a suicidal single that would have seen his partner comfortably run out, had Bailey managed a direct hit, before an lbw shout against Carberry was incorrectly called not out by umpire Erasmus.

Stokes, a real glimmer of hope on an otherwise dark day for England, faced the press at the close of play. He spoke of “tough two days”, but remained optimistic on a “pitch that wasn’t doing much. We go in tomorrow with nine wickets left and hopefully we can pile it on”, said the all-rounder, who is set to play a key role batting at number six.

Australia coach Darren Lehmann was unsurprisingly elated: “When the captain and vice-captain lead the way, that is pleasing to see,” he said, before praising the re-born Mitchell Johnson: “It was a beautiful delivery to get their skipper. Hopefully that can continue.”

A good day for: Brad Haddin. The underrated Aussie stumper had his fair share of lives, thanks to Carberry’s generous drops and today’s key moment (see below) but proved, once again, why he is the life and soul of this Australian side. He made England play for those key errors, playing an innings full of life, and no shortage of skill too. Four times he planted the spinners into the galleries as he racked up his fourth, and perhaps finest, Test ton. The depth of his contribution to Australia’s innings was shown by the hush, soon to be replaced by rapturous applause, that befell the Adelaide Oval when Broad had him caught behind as the first innings wound to a close.

A bad day for: After his much-maligned captaincy came in for some rare praise, today was a day to forget for Alastair Cook. Simply nothing worked for the forlorn tourists and Cook’s plans, admittedly increasingly adventurous, would not fall into place. His spin twins laboured away without reward and his quicks just couldn’t summon the pace to trouble the Aussie batsmen. To cap it all off, Mad Mitch ended a miserable knock that saw him waft outside off stump twice, by beating him all ends up with a straight one. 2010 must seem a long time ago.

Key Moment: With the score 5-368 and Haddin, already on his second life thanks to Carberry’s costly drop the night before, looking set on 51, Stokes thought Australia’s keeper was his first Test wicket as Matt Prior snaffled an edge. Instead, as Haddin trudged back to the pavilion and England thought they had their first breakthrough of the day, the umpires went upstairs and the daylight between Stokes’ front boot and the white line was revealed. Haddin punished England to the tune of 67 more runs but, perhaps more importantly, with Clarke on 99 at the other end, and the key partnership broken, one wicket could well have brought two. What a very costly centimetre for the fiery Durham all-rounder.

Will MacPherson writes for Back Page Lead.

Shot of the Day: After England’s gruelling morning in the field, the punishment continued after lunch. Cook used his quicks sparingly, but brought Anderson back into the attack only to see Clarke bring up Australia’s 400 with the purest of straight drives. Amid Haddin’s and Harris’ flurry of maximums, this really was one for the purists.

Ball of the Day: While England’s bowlers toiled in the heat, it didn’t take long for the Mitchell Johnson renaissance to continue. The mustachioed quick had already recorded the match’s seven swiftest deliveries (including a no-ball) by the end of his first over. Minutes later, he did England’s captain with sheer pace, Cook playing around a ball that moved a fraction and took his off stump.

Stat of the day: Even Nathan Lyon got involved in Australia’s six-fest. His maximum was his first in First Class cricket, in his 51st match.

What Saturday holds: Attack, attack, attack from the hosts. Kevin Pietersen will fancy that his special record at the Adelaide Oval to continue, and the visitors may need it. If they’re going to get anything from this game, they’ll certainly need to show more ticker than they did in Brisbane.

Will MacPherson writes for Back Page Lead.