England endures tough outing as Australia reaches 303 for 3 at the end of day one at Old Trafford
Michael Clarke, the Australia captain, produced an innings of consummate expertise on day one of the third Ashes Test, stroking his way to an unbeaten 125 and reigniting hopes of an Australian fightback in a series that has gone decidedly in favour of the English until now. With Australia ending day one at Old Trafford at 303 for 3 – an end-of-day score not many in Manchester would have placed their bets on – the Ashes is pregnant with the promise of a tantalising turnaround.
While the controversy surrounding the Decision Review System (DRS) did manage to rear its head yet again, it was Clarke’s innings that marked a rare day of Australian dominance on Thursday (August 1), ensuring the review system did not succeed in deflecting attention from the superb performances of Chris Rogers and Clarke, under differing but immense pressure.
Clarke began the day well, winning the toss and electing to take first knock – as Cook would have done, although the humidity teased bowlers with the prospect of movement through the air.
It took England a little while to settle, James Anderson whipping in as usual but never looking entirely ensconced. And at the other end, Stuart Broad was only marginally more threatening, his height extracting greater bounce, but he was also more prone to bowling loose deliveries.
Meanwhile, the batsmen were undergoing their own tribulations, effectively exchanging instincts. Shane Watson’s face was gripped with blank anguish, reasoning, pleading with himself not to do that thing that he does, the difficulty its close technical relationship to that best thing that he does. Consequently, he played gingerly, willing himself to a score by denial and never looking at ease, his booming drives conspicuous by their absence.
Rogers, the other opener, took the opposite approach, relaxing his hands and looking to acquaint bat with ball wherever possible; one boundary came from a delivery so wide he almost had to throw the bat at it literally, as well as metaphorically. Then, after a drinks break, he took Tim Bresnan for consecutive fours, a slash to point followed by a statement straight-drive that oozed liquid velvet.
Yet at no point was his control complete, this the allure of an innings notable for bravery as much as skill. An Anderson half-volley, slung on middle-and-leg, disappeared for four, but when the next ball was straighter and fuller, a leading edge dropped only just short of gully. To his credit, he thought nothing of it, a flowing drive through cover immediately followed by one iced to point, earning consecutive boundaries and taking him to a half-century comprising shots all around the wicket and including ten fours.
Because England has diverse pace options, it can sometimes be tricky to discern a compelling reason for the inclusion of Bresnan – he has just one five-for in 19 Tests, his TT initials belying a pace that can appear lacking, despite the “bowls a heavy ball” propaganda. But weaving in, doing everything possible to insinuate menace, the sneaky insertion of the nocuous amongst the economical makes him a deceptively tricky proposition. And that was precisely the manner in which Watson was dismissed, a ball just outside off-stump drawing him forwards and leaving him by just enough to take the shoulder of his bat, steered directly into the dry hands of Cook at first slip.
Six overs later, when Khawaja was given out caught behind off Graeme Swann -- by Kumar Dharmasena, the third umpire, who determined that there was insufficient evidence to overturn a decision that all the available information insisted was wrong -- England had filched Australia’s morning.
Anderson located some rhythm after lunch, Rogers suddenly skittish. Playing and missing on more than a few occasions, he was less able to reset with stern words before proceeding as though nothing had happened. This slowed his scoring rate, and, with his score on 84, an over from Swann was interrupted several times, various members entertaining themselves by moving around the sightscreen in front of the pavilion. Coaxing prodigious purchase all afternoon, Swann got one to grip, spin and straighten, tempting Rogers to hit against the turn. First pressing forward, he then leant back to whip away to midwicket, not whipping away to midwicket. The ball hit him above the boot and he was given out lbw.
But by now, and after a nervous start, Clarke had reclined into gliding hyperactivity, whispering a four through the covers off Anderson and backing it up next ball with an equally definitive forward-defensive.
Nor was Swann able to control him. Twice Clarke twinkled down the pitch and twice he smashed down to the fence at long on, a ballet dancer with a bludgeon and, as the bowlers tired and the ball dulled, he began to dominate, with Smith providing solid support. Batting with patience and determination, they took the score to 250, before Clarke turned Swann away square on the leg-side and eased through for a hundred as ballsy as it was brilliant.
The second new ball brought England no relief, Clarke’s array of drives, dabs and cuts keeping the score moving while Smith nudged and pushed to an undefeated 70. If it can survive the first hour tomorrow, we may even be allowed to forget about DRS for a while.