Australia limps to 164-9 in reply to visitors’ 255 in Boxing Day Test on day two
It had to happen eventually. For the first time in this Ashes series, England was able to come back at Australia, making a modest first-innings total look promising on a hectic second day at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Friday (December 27). After Mitchell Johnson once more smashed through England’s late order, taking a five-wicket haul that restricted their first innings to 255, the visiting bowlers replied by strangling Australia’s scoring on what remained a good batting pitch. The pressure finally told, with six wickets after the tea break sending Australia to stumps at 164-9.
England was criticised on the first day for its slow scoring, but Australia proceeded in much the same fashion on Friday. Steve Smith’s 19 took 77 balls, Mitchell Johnson scored 2 from 30, while George Bailey scored a 19-ball duck. Chris Rogers top scored with 61 from 171.
Only Brad Haddin had the measure of the pitch and the bowling, with a typically counterattacking 43 from 49. After Peter Siddle was dismissed from what became the last ball of the day, only Nathan Lyon will be available on the third day to help Haddin in trying to narrow England’s 91-run lead.
After Boxing Day’s record Test crowd topped 91,000, the second day had a hefty 78,346. Those present for the first overs were treated to another Mitch masterclass. Johnson’s first ball of the day leapt at Tim Bresnan’s throat, fended off in a looping arc that was intercepted by Bailey running back from short leg. The same over, Kevin Pietersen tried an ugly smear over midwicket, only to be beaten by one that swung in a fraction and smashed into leg stump.
Two overs later was a repeat of Stuart Broad’s dismissal in Perth, a yorker beating him for pace to hit his boot in front of middle stump. The only upside for Broad was that this one managed not to injure him. By this stage, Johnson’s morning had yielded three wickets in three overs for one run. Running on from his spell the previous evening, he’d bowled eight overs to take 5 for 15, leaving Lyon the token wicket of Monty Panesar, bowled shouldering arms.
But for once, Australia wasn't able to carry the momentum into its batting. Rogers played a couple of nice strokes, but David Warner departed in the seventh over after top edging a nondescript shot off his hips from James Anderson, giving Jonny Bairstow his first catch as an England wicketkeeper. Alastair Cook’s use of a very straight mid on to Shane Watson was foiled first ball, as an on drive sped through regulation mid on for four. But, after just 15 balls, Watson inside edged a drive from Ben Stokes’s second over.
Rogers had a scare shortly after lunch when he tried to duck a Broad delivery that didn’t get up, instead crashing into the earpiece of his helmet. It drew blood, and required a few attempts at finding a replacement helmet, but he was able to put the blow aside to settle things down for a few overs with Michael Clarke. Clarke’s experience was always going to be central on Melbourne’s slightly tricky pitches, so English belief began to rise when he became the third man this match to be bowled without offering a shot, gone for 10 to leave Australia at 62-3.
Smith flicked his second ball for four, but it was a misleading sign in what would become a quiet innings. He and Rogers had a run rate below two in the 24 overs they batted together, restricted further by some excellent ground fielding, typified by an Anderson dive that couldn’t catch Smith’s rifled pull off Bresnan, but did save four runs. Rogers looked the more accomplished, finding the odd boundary to move to 49, before a long wait finally ended and he reached his third half-century of the series. Smith was offered a dry line outside the off stump that gave him very few chances to score.
Finally, in the eighth over after tea, Smith’s patience ran out and he edged a drive against Broad to Ian Bell, the new slip fieldsman. It would presage a severe Australian slide. Three overs later, Rogers tried to loft an on drive off Bresnan that held up in the footmarks, leaving him to slice it instead to Pietersen at mid off. Haddin wasted little time before slicing his first boundary off the edge, but Bailey’s attempted cut only resulted in an English appeal. Aleem Dar gave him not out, but the decision was overturned on review with Snicko suggesting a faint edge to give Anderson his third, and Bailey a duck. The upside for Bailey was that his percentage of career runs in sixes was unharmed.
Haddin has been the saviour time and again for Australia this series, and he moved merrily on with a straight six off Stokes, then three successive boundaries from Anderson. Fortune smiled: Johnson was dropped by Anderson off Bresnan, while Haddin reviewed an lbw dismissal from Panesar that looked certain to be umpire’s call, but was deemed to be missing leg stump completely. On the third attempt, Anderson was able to take a catch from Bresnan’s bowling, ending Johnson’s supporting effort. Ryan Harris flicked Broad to short leg, and then, with a couple of minutes to go, Broad had Siddle driving too early to be caught at cover.
It has taken fifteen others, but at last, here was a day that was entirely England’s. If Lyon can be knocked over early on Saturday, and the English lead kept close to 100, it will be an important difference. If Lyon can hang around, and Haddin can pile on some runs, that will be just as important. Whichever way it goes, what we do have on our hands is a contest, and if Melbourne keeps producing bumper crowds over the weekend, coming along will be well worth the while.