Ashes day one: advantage Australia?
What an extraordinary first day of Test match cricket, even by Ashes standards. A day that ebbed and flowed, that tormented and teased both sets of supporters and ultimately left us with the question: where does the balance of this match lie?
As Kev notes, lunch for England would have been the equivalent of trying to digest tarmac, a disconcerting affair to say the least. Having won the toss and electing to bat England were reduced to 92-3 by a persevering if unspectacular Australian attack, which left the Barmy Army cowering behind their beer snakes fearing the worst.
Tea would have been sweeter — “two more sugars please” — after Pietersen and Collingwood put on a hundred runs for the loss of no wickets. If Pietersen batting is like watching an artist paint a masterpiece, then watching Collingwood is like sitting through a blacksmith beating a horseshoe into shape.
Then came an astonishing final session. Collingwood played at one outside off as unconvincingly as he’d hit a boundary a few balls earlier, and was snaffled by Haddin behind the timbers.
Shortly after, the least impressive bowler Nathan Hauritz took the wicket of England’s best batsmen Kevin Pietersen, who played shot that would’ve had Geoffrey Boycott charging for him with his stick of rhubarb, and England were again teetering on the brink at 241-5.
Cue the Prior and Flintoff show. In a blink of an eye the pendulum had swung again as the bruise brothers rocketed England to 327 with a series of blazing cover drives and thumping pull shots through midwicket, and suddenly it looked as though England would finish close to 400 with 5 wickets in hand and the game, if not in the bag, then at the till ready for packing.
But back came Australia again with the redoubtable Peter Siddle removing Flintoff and Prior in a crazy last 15 minutes to leave England 336-7 at stumps.
So where does the balance of power lie? I think Australia will be the happier of the two sides. Their bowling on the whole was ordinary, yet they managed to winkle out seven England wickets and keep them to under 350.
However, England, despite cursing the fact that five out of seven batsmen conspired to give their wickets away, will be happy with what they have seen in the pitch, despite being 25 or 30 runs short and 2 wickets down from where they would like to be.
Much will depend on how long England can bat for tomorrow.
If England can get a score of 450 they’ll be cock-a-hoop and Aussies will feel the game slipping away. However 3 quick wickets for Australia and they’ll rightly feel in the ascendancy.
One final point. Check out the foot marks that are already appearing outside the left-hander’s off stump (3 of Australia’s top 4 batsmen are left handed).
It’s hard to tell how and if a pitch is going to deteriorate, but having opted to play two spinners, England will be heartened by what they’ve seen, which could aid them in defending a below par score.
PHOTO: England’s Andrew Flintoff looks over at Australian wicket keeper Brad Haddin during the first Ashes test in Cardiff, Wales, July 8, 2009. REUTERS/Andrew Winning