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Bruising day of punch and counter-punch

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Tom Fordyce | 18:40 UK time, Wednesday, 8 July 2009

We thought it would be close, and we weren't wrong.

If an Ashes series is a heavyweight title fight, this was a cagey opening round that saw both fighters land big blows before retiring behind their watchful jabs. And if at the close some judges had Australia marginally ahead on points, this is a ding-dong that is yet to see its decisive moment.

England would have wanted better than 336-7 after winning the toss. Equally they would have settled for the same after being 90-3 with Mitchell Johnson seemingly on the rampage.

It was that sort of day. Just when one side looked to have forced the other close to the ropes, the opposition would slip away and come back counter-punching.

Australia attacked in bursts. After gaining control at lunchtime, they let the match wriggle away from them in a strangely cautious afternoon before biting back briefly after tea and then sitting back again. England, watchful from the start, were reactive rather than proactive, at one stage going 21 overs without a boundary off the bat before stepping on the gas and then wobbling afresh at the end.

That they got to where they did had something to do with doggedness and a lot to do withthe puzzling tactics and field settings employed by Ricky Ponting.

His side came out after lunch as the dominant force, only to then embark on a sustained period of damage limitation that had as much in common with traditional notions of Aussie aggression as a weak-fingered handshake.

Fielders were set deep. Singles were given away. The pressure that had piled up on the shoulders of Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood was allowed to ebb away. It was as if we were watching a meaningless fifth day draw rather than the first day of the first Ashes Test. 97 runs were added for loss of no wickets.

Ponting the leader has grown used to having the biggest weapons at his disposal. When you've got McGrath and Warne to call on in times of trouble, you don't need to tax the old tactics too much.

His problem now is that those big guns have been spiked. To punch holes in the enemy's defences now takes a cunning and imagination that wasn't often required before.

To his rescue came an unheralded trio of bowlers and a rash of indiscreet shots from established England batsmen.

At the start of an Ashes summer, there's always that horrible wait among England fans to find out which Australian will emerge as the fearsome Nemesis, a superhero avenger in a green and gold cape with the power to destroy English hopes from nowhere at any time.

The name changes, but the role remains the same - Dennis Lillee in the 1970s, Terry Alderman in 1989, Warne so often that a generation of English children cried themselves to sleep at the mere mention of his name.

The early money this year was on Johnson, his deeds in South Africa and rumoured mastery of reverse swing pushing him ahead of his lesser-known team-mates. When he reduced England to 90-3 at lunch, the mantle was his for the taking - Andrew Strauss hurried by the fastest ball of the day into gloving behind, Ravi Bopara foxed by an off-cutter 25mph slower and wafting to cover.

We sat back and waited for more, only for Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle to then steal the spotlight away.

Glamorous the two are not. There's none of Lillee's temper, nor Thompson's mouth, but there was plenty of anger, a willingness to work on an unhelpful pitch and swing after tea to waylay a recovering England.

Siddle softened up Ravi Bopara, cracking him in the throat with a short one. Later he shattered the timbers and hopes of Andrew Flintoff and Matt Prior just as the pair threatened to accelerate away.

Hilfenhaus might sound like an Austrian Christmas delicacy, but it was his strength and perseverance that won the key wicket of Collingwood after tea, when England were looking increasingly comfortable, to add to the earlier scalp of Alistair Cook.

What no-one expected was that Nathan Hauritz would be the one to get rid of Pietersen. Having toiled all afternoon with almost zero menace, the off-spinner was a surprise choice to come back into the attack an hour after tea.

Maybe that helps explain Pietersen's choice of shot. He had been in restrained form all day (his 50 took him 141 minutes and included just three fours), and having just survived a plumb lbw shout against Hilfenhaus looked in the sort of mood to bat Australia into furious frustration.

Instead, the frustration was all England's. Pietersen aimed a premeditated sweep at a ball two feet outside his off stump, got a top edge and was left on one knee, head bowed, as Hauritz danced into Ponting's embrace.

Few of his team-mates could criticise. Six of England's top seven scored at least 30, bedded down and looking set to add more. That none pushed past 70 had as much to do with indisciplined strokeplay as Australian inspiration.

The much-discussed pitch turned out to be one for attrition and application. There was little bounce, not much pace onto the bat and nothing to get the ball jagging off the seam.

It suited Collingwood's nurdling, and it suited Siddle's accuracy. It may subsequently favour the spin of Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, particularly if the footholds outside the left-handers' off-stump continue to spread at the same rate.

England will lament the late wickets of Prior and Flintoff in particular. The pair had added 86 runs at a rapid rate, lifting a sometimes quiet crowd, forcing the Aussie attack into errors and bringing back happy memories of Freddie's partnerships with another stumper, Geraint Jones, back in 2005.

Airy eyes-up drives accounted for both. Had they stuck together for the remaining eight overs of the day, England would have ended the day with noses in front.

As it was, the balance tilted again. It's that kind of match.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Potings tactics appear to be "hang around and wait for England to give their wickets away", when, none of the wickets were down to inspired captaincy, and only 2 were good balls, the rest were batsman error. If that is his plan for the whole ashes then all Straus will need to do is hammer into his batsmen (and himself) not to play anything they don't need too and England will win, unfortunatly I don't see that happening!

    This test is well poised, with no-one knowing what a good score is and England due to bowl last on a pitch that is sure to produce spin on day 4 according to the groundsman, should be interesting.

  • Comment number 2.

    I can't get too annoyed by Pietersen's silly shot because honestly, he should've been out a little while earlier anyway. I think the cricketing gods stepped in there.

    A real shame to lose Flintoff and Prior right near the end after their fightback had wrested control back. As it stands I'd be slightly happier in the Aussie camp, but not by much. England need to get as close to 370+ as they can tomorrow, and then we can see what the our bowlers can get out of this pitch.

  • Comment number 3.

    England still have two capable batsmen in Broad and Swann. If they can get past 380 they have a fair chance of taking advantage of Australia having to bat last. However, this is not the time to make rash predictions: neither side is clearly on top and until Australia have batted we do not know if a good score on this pitch is 300, or 600. Things may look very different by the close tomorrow.

  • Comment number 4.

    Tom,

    Could you let your BBC colleague Oliver Brett know that it was Johnson who bowled the first ball of this Ashes series, not Hilfenhaus as his article states.

  • Comment number 5.

    It's an almost impossible match to call, and if I were a betting man, I'd be putting my money on whoever is available at the longest odds!

    The Australian first innings will clearly be crucial. I think England do have the edge because I expect this to be an excellent fourth/fifth-day spinners' wicket, but England are probably going to have to bat with discipline in the second innings to make the most of that.

  • Comment number 6.

    Was furious with KP this afternoon but seeing the replay tonight where the ball actually deflects of his helmet from his sweep shot i've mellowed a bit and can see he was a touch unlucky.

    What's clear from Day 1 is that the Aussie bowling attack is not a patch on the 2005 vintage and if we can play a bit more positively, cut out the stupid dismissals then we have every chance of winning this series.

    400 should have been easily attainable and we might still get there.

    Ultimately i think the weather over the weekend will prevent a result in this game (barring something spectacular tomorrow/friday) but i'm fascinated to see what our bowlers make of the wicket/conditions.

  • Comment number 7.

    Hi BennyBlanco (post 4),

    Good spot on the error in the report over who bowled the first over of the match - we have updated it.

    Thanks

    Ian W - BBC Sport.

  • Comment number 8.

    I was furious at Cook.
    Again he showed he is not an International player playing ridculous shots.
    Cook should be dropped and replaced with someone else.
    Maybe push Bopara up or even Ian Bell.

  • Comment number 9.

    Today!s match was interestingly watched.England players more interests to this match,compared to previous cricket matches.
    Cook,and Peterson had not played well.I expected real,possible score from Peterson,but failed miserably.
    Still, English tail enders can add score board to another 50 runs.If they do it,then it will be a tough to Aussis for getting more runs quickly.
    English bowlers,fielders are to be much more cautious and be alert for not allowing Aussis to take more runs.
    Thanks to Tom Fordyce!s todays coverages.

  • Comment number 10.

    ".....generally quiet crowd."

    being from Manchester but living in the southern hemisphere presently was baffled by switching on to watch the start of the Ashes to be presented with the Welsh National Anthem, then to find out that Old Trafford has lost out on an Ashes test.

    Come on England & come on the ECB

  • Comment number 11.

    Much was said today about not one of the English batsman going on to score three figure scores but every one of them scored double figures and all but Cook more than 30. It's alright someone making a ton but if everyone else scores in single figures then what good is that. All of them have contributed, and if Australia can take wickets, then I can only see our bowlers doing even better.

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 13.

    Thoroughly enjoyed today's play, and thought TMS commentary was a joy to behold! Is there really anything to rival it in the world? I've had to play Brian Lara Cricket non stop to get my daily fix - 'that's in the air and safe and out!'.

    Aggers is worth the TV license alone, and then throw Blowfeld, Chappell and CMJ into the mix and phwwwwa! One is left wondering how Sky pull in the punters? Having said that my dissertation hangs by a thread after Wimbledon and an Ashes summer.

    On the game - I hope to see an English batsman step up to the plate and grit out a dogged century on this slow pitch in the seond innings. It may perhaps be necessary to guarantee a draw.

    Bopara, nerves induced, was inevitably going to get out the way he was playing, as were a number of England batsmen who gave away their wicket, not always cheaply, but needlessly. Hopefully, Broad and his gold locks can dispatch a few boundaries and then realise his Ashes potential with a some wickets.

    Can't predict this one but rest assured that Stick Cricket, BBC Sport and TMS will remain a poison challice throughout the summer (for those with deadlines)!

  • Comment number 14.

    Australia marginally in front?

    A totally ludicrous remark.

    350 is a very solid score by any standards, and currently Australia have no runs on the board.

    Not only that, the pitch is already starting to deteriorate and none of the Oz batsmen have experienced Anderson in his current robes of purple mystification.

    England to stroll it - probably on day 4.

  • Comment number 15.

    In my opinion a very good days test cricket, and opener to the series. A fascinating struggle to gain superiority - I put England just ahead. The first innings of past Ashes series really has been barometer of what's to follow... let's hope our middle and lower middle order continue to provide valuable runs. We must take advantage of Australia's weak attack. I predict a tight contest, but England 3-1.
    I must comment upon Pietersen. Whilst I admire his precocious talent, he continues to annoy by playing these attrocious shots, which place our innnings in jeopardy. Furthermore, his "that's the way I play" reply when quizzed is not the required answer from a senior professional. We need less arrogance and more responsibilty - he was rightfully stripped of the captaincy. The match result is what's important here, not Pietersen's image.

  • Comment number 16.

    Yes, let's hope there's plenty of spin in the latter stages. Advantage England. Panesar needs to produce otherwise he must make way for Rashid.

  • Comment number 17.

    We've already seen what will probably be the decisive factor between the two sides: Australian batsmen wouldn't have given their wickets away like England did. Ok, Strauss got a goody, but Pietersen needs to learn that he's a PROFESSIONAL, not a 'genius'... and that, as with the Aussies, shot-selection counts for a hell of a lot - the one he got out to was not there for what he was trying to do. He should have been trying to pierce the off-side instead of drag it to leg. Flintoff might have made a misjudgement, but he should really have been playing for stumps, and left the counter-attack until this morning. Bopara looks like he's going to be suckered out time and again by the nous of the Aussies, just like Alec Stewart was. Colly played really well as ever, and Prior opened his Ashes account well. I hope the bowlers can step up to the plate now; we still have a chance in this match if there are no more indiscretions (a big 'if' with England, though).

  • Comment number 18.

    I have to take issue with post 13. Yes TMS is excellent....except for CMJ, who ruins it. I can't give my opinion of him as my post would be removed, but if he comes on, the radio goes off!

  • Comment number 19.

    I enjoy the TMS coverage as well but it's not CMJ that makes me switch off by Boycott.

    The joke is surely over now about how good his mother was at cricket and it looks like this summer he is going to give Nathan Hauritz the same abuse he gave Paul Harris last year. If somebody made the same comments on this page they would be removed. The man is a disgrace to broadcasting and the BBC.

    I couldn't even excape him on 5live after the game as he constantly interrupted Aggers to talk about himself. As I went to switch the radio off things got worse as apparently Stephen Brenkley was due on the next part of the programme. Another man who knows everything and isn't afraid to tell us.

  • Comment number 20.

    To everyone who is criticizing Pietersen, what would you do about it? You can hardly drop him, he was once again England's higest scorer. Daft shots seem to be part of his game, but if he gets 70 runs first, I'm pretty sure the skipper would take that every time.

  • Comment number 21.

    The "decisive moment" in cricket in England/Wales is when it starts raining. From what I hear that will be Saturday.

  • Comment number 22.

    My frustration is that australias weakness is in there bowling attack yet we were not capable of batting them out of sight. Players like katich and north will bat out all day in Cardiff.

  • Comment number 23.

    About 50-50 on the KP shot, it seems. Interesting to hear what the old pros say about it all - some of them make the point that the batsmen KP would like to be compared to, like Viv Richards and Steve Waugh, would never have played a shot like that; others that you can't have Good KP without being prepared to accept Bad KP.

    mdspatsy - if England can get to 380 plus, I reckon they'll be happy.

    pyattlo1 - I share some of your fears. We'll only get a true sense of how good England's performance was on Wednesday when we see how Australia bat on the same track.

    Coxcurrygod - "robes of purple mystification"? I like it - but why are they purple?

  • Comment number 24.

    The most encouraging thing for England is that the Aussie bowlers only looked threatening in brief patches. The most worrying thing for England is that our batsmen still managed to get themselves out.
    We probably aren't going to get as much as we could have done if 1 or 2 of the top order had stayed in and played a big innings but we've got runs on the board and wait and see how their batsmen do.
    Unfortunately it looks like there'll be rain but lets hope for a result.

  • Comment number 25.


    Prior is a guy in hurry. He made his runs in quick. 336 runs on Day One is a good score. There were many decent partnerships but not long enough to discourage the visiting bowlers. The batting side could have protected a few more wickets. Best wishes to the two sides on Day Two.




    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 26.

    Mixed feeling after day 1. Some good and bad came out of the 336-7.
    The so called 'batsmen' yet again disappointed with poor shot selection. Pietersen's was pre-meditated, which is fine fr one-day cricket but not for a test match. Curiously, KP looked very defensive and hardly played any attacking strokes. He is not known for his patience, and having faced 140+ balls, you would expect him to maybe have 90-100 runs clocked up, and be on top of the bowling having hit some boundaries, rather than strolling along at barely 3 an over.

    KP and Colly had a rebuild job to do, but didn't make the most, numerically, of the number of balls they were there for. If they'd each scored another few boundaries each then England would be close to 400 already. Prior & Flintoff looked superb and really showed the top order up.
    Cook was a little unlucky to be caught, while Strauss tried to evade a ball that he should have been whacking. Bopara was deceived but should have taken the Aussie philosophy of going through with the stroke, as if he had played a fullblooded stroke then he may well have cleared the fielder and got a 4 - fortune favors the brave, and only Flintoff and Prior really went for it.
    England's batting will improve as long as they are more positive and look to dominate the bowling.

  • Comment number 27.

    I think that one of the key things that became even more apparent to everyone (even though we knew already) was the inability of Punter as a captain. His idea of tactics basically revolved around dependency - ie on Warne and McGrath - and without these weapons his lack of tactical awareness is there for all to see. The fact that England are 7 down is because of bad shot selection rather than extended pressure from the field due to creative placement etc.

    Looking for Broad to take advantage of Punter's inaptitude and add another half century to his already impressive batting stats.

  • Comment number 28.

    Totally agree with post 19 - surely Boycott has had his day? He seems to exist purely to tell us how great he is, how differently he would have done things, or just to criticise players. The man's a relic. I wince every time I hear him come on the air.

  • Comment number 29.

    Totally agree with post 19 and 28. It amazes me that Boycott ever scored a run because he must never have hit a shot and setting a field for him must have been easy 2 mid ons 2 mid offs because he never (so he reckons never hit one out of the V

  • Comment number 30.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 31.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

 

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