Australia struggled early but recovered well on day one of the fifth Test in Sydney, bowled out for 326 late in the day before Mitchell Johnson struck just before stumps to leave England at 1-8 in reply.
England won a session and got half of the home side’s batsmen out before stalling spectacularly in the afternoon session and allowing another brilliant Australian rearguard to flourish.
In a final session played at light speed, Australia lost five wickets and England one to set up a tantalising second day at the SCG. The heroes for both sides were familiar ones, as far as this series has gone, with Brad Haddin and Steve Smith saving Australia with the bat and Johnson making Michael Carberry his 32nd wicket of the series. Ben Stokes once again showed his promise, picking up 6-99 for the bedraggled tourists.
Australia may yet whitewash England, but Alastair Cook began the day by avoiding the dreaded “coinwash”. He called correctly and inserted Australia under cloudy sides on a track just a little less green than England’s new-look line-up; there were three debutants for the tourists – Gary Ballance, Scott Borthwick and Boyd Rankin, at the expense of Joe Root, Tim Bresnan and Monty Panesar.
At lunch, Cook’s appeared a decision vindicated, with Australia’s top four back in that beautiful old pavilion and England’s bowlers finding the length required to probe on a grassy track. Stuart Broad bowled a leaden-footed David Warner (16) and man of the moment Chris Rogers (11) played on to Stokes, who then had Clarke (10) fishing at a beauty outside off caught by Ian Bell at second slip.
Shane Watson played with the sort of authority that we’ve seen so many times before in reaching 43, only to fall in such a familiar manner, too. Driving his first ball to the cover fence, Watson picked up where he left off in Melbourne, only for Jimmy Anderson to find that famous front pad on the stroke of lunch. With Australia 4/94 at the break, this was emphatically England’s morning.
Once again, it was Smith and Haddin who were required to rescue the hosts after George Bailey’s latest failure, this time an ugly nibble at a Broad delivery best left alone when on one. For the first half hour after lunch, England’s openers were sensational – Broad and Anderson finding nagging lines and probing lengths, before the attack as a whole, shorn of the injured Rankin, who strained a hamstring, let the Australians counter-punch with dash.
The hosts should never have been allowed to reach 326, but that should not detract from another outstanding rearguard effort from Haddin and Smith. The wicketkeeper set the early running, pulling and driving with typical power and putting Borthwick to the sword. Eventually, amid talk of his retirement, Haddin, a late bloomer playing his finest cricket yet, left the ground to rapturous applause when he fell to Stokes for 75.
Smith was unfazed, though. Scratchy for much of his first 50, he blossomed thereafter, moving from 93 to 103 in style by depositing Borthwick for six and four in the space of three ugly deliveries. His masterly treatment of the freshman twirler was reminiscent of his breakthrough ton at the Oval in August, when he and Watson dismantled another English spinning hope, Simon Kerrigan.
Borthwick served up a mixed bag of long-hops, full-bungers and the occasional flighted beauty, as was probably expected of a spinner so wet behind the ears. He was eventually rewarded, though, as Johnson misjudged a big heave-ho and found the welcoming hands of the vanquished Root, on as a sub for Rankin.
Smith added a sharp 50 with Ryan Harris, who deposited Anderson into the members stand and whose departure precipitated an England-esque collapse. In the space of an over, Stokes snared Harris, Siddle and last man out Smith, and even managed to have Nathan Lyon, who remains undefeated all series, dropped in the cordon.
England were left with a dicey 20 minutes and Johnson, touching 150kph with just his fourth delivery, was determined to make it as miserable as possible. At least twice Carberry, retained at the expense of Root, could have fallen in his first over as Australia, smelling blood and buoyed by a bouncing SCG crowd, appealed and sledged with as much verve as they have all series.
In his second over, Johnson got his man, with Lyon taking a spectacular catch at leg gully. Carberry left the field like a man who knew his number was up as failure in the second innings would surely spell the end of a brief England career. He was replaced by nightwatchman Anderson, who diligently defended his wicket, chatted animatedly with the hordes of close fielders and time-wasted like his life depended on it. He and Cook saw England to the close at 1-8.
Will Macpherson writes for Back Page Lead.