Allrounder follows up 77 with key strikes as Australia reply to host’s 430 with 264 for 5 at close on day two
Bright sunshine, a Sophia Gardens surface that was perhaps at its best and a solid start from the top order meant Australia was well on its way towards parity on the second day of the Ashes opener in Cardiff. But the visitor was kept honest despite threatening to dominate at different stages as England held a distinct advantage at stumps.
After making a stroke-filled 77 that helped England post 430, Moeen Ali accounted for the prized scalps of Steven Smith (33) and Michael Clarke (38) at stages when his team desperately needed a breakthrough. While the industry of Adam Voges (31) and the aggression of Shane Watson (29 not out) helped Australia recover, Ben Stokes had Voges caught at cover in the dying moments of Thursday’s (July 9) second day as Australia ended on 264 for 5, still trailing by 166 runs, with Nathan Lyon, the nightwatchman, surviving by the skin of his teeth.
The one Australian batsman who truly left an imprint on proceedings was Chris Rogers. Rogers, 37, missed Australia's last Test series in the West Indies because of concussion, but batted with the confidence and assurance a regular opener. The beauty of his batting lay in his approach against late awayswing. Driving on the up seemed second nature on a surface where there were no real demons, even though the ball did strange things from time to time, which could be put down to James Anderson’s mastery.
Rogers hardly put a foot wrong during the course his seventh successive half-century in Tests, a feat no other opener has achieved. In doing so, he also joined an elite club with Everton Weekes, Andy Flower, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Andy Flower as the only other occupants.
But nerves and the tantalising prospect of an impending century to kick off his final lap in international cricket perhaps lurked in the corner of his mind. Not only did the landmark affect his concentration, but also brought about tension out of nowhere as England's short-ball tactic paid rich dividends.
The biggest beneficiary was Mark Wood, the Ashes debutant who was wheeling away with control that suggested a wicket wasn’t too far away. But the manner in which he got his first wicket was least expected as Rogers's attempt to slash hard, something he hadn't done until then, resulted in the thinnest of edges through to Jos Buttler to break a flourishing 51-run stand with Clarke.
If nerves accounted for Rogers, overconfidence put paid to Smith's hopes of continuing the kind of form that netted him 199 and 54 in his last two Test innings in Kingston not too long ago. Strangely enough, while the bowling was steady and not threatening by any means, Smith didn't look entirely in control.
His intention to attack Moeen was made clear early on as he lofted him for three boundaries in four deliveries, before an indecisive nudge to the on-side resulted in him spooning a catch to Alastair Cook at silly mid-on. Clarke too had most bases covered, and the ease with which he moved back and forth, his dodgy back notwithstanding, caused England some anxious moments till he smashed one back to Moeen who held on to a sharp return catch.
Even when Australia was chugging along at a fair clip, Cook was on the ball, looking for wickets by having fielders in catching position for his pacers. Anderson, who was unlucky early on, was rewarded for his persistence when he had David Warner with a superb outswinger that saw Cook take a tumbling catch at first slip.
Warner, who occupied the crease for 42 deliveries, was a pale shadow of the one who demoralises bowling attacks with his belligerence. Slowly, frustration crept in and his quest to play copybook cricket which made him leave plenty of deliveries resulted in a false stroke.
Earlier in the morning, Australia’s hopes of nipping out the three remaining English wickets early were thwarted by luck as much as by Moeen’s (77) flashy strokes for a session and a half. While the rub of the green wasn’t with the visitor, it still made for an entertaining passage in which England added 87 runs in 14.1 overs before Mitchell Starc brought a close to the innings to finish with figures of 5 for 114.
Stuart Broad (18), whose batting always evokes a sense of drama, didn’t last long and was the first to go when a wild slog off Lyon resulted in an under-edge that was pouched well by Brad Haddin. But the wicket also allowed Moeen to play with a degree of freedom as he drove and swept handsomely to take England to a position of strength before Australia closed out the innings.
To see the full scorecard of this match, please click here.