Thursday 27 April 2017

England frustrated by Hussey defiance

Mike Atherton

In the weeks building up to this series there was much talk from England about "strength", "unity", "belief", "spirit" and "confidence", all nice-sounding terms but utterly meaningless when uttered from the shelter of an English winter.

There was always going to be a time to reveal rather than talk about their character and, although we were only two days in, yesterday afternoon was one of those days. England had short-changed themselves on the opening day and, one session in on the second, they had sent only one Australia batsman, Shane Watson, back to the shed. The sun was shining, the pitch was blameless and home expectations were for a run-filled afternoon. England needed to reveal their true selves for the first time in the Test match and, through James Anderson and Steven Finn, they did just that.

Disciplined

England's bowling in the afternoon session, when they sent Australia's middle order packing, taking four wickets for 72 runs in 27 disciplined overs, was the best of the match so far. As well as keeping England in the game, it highlighted three things: that England's seam attack has more cutting edge and bite than Australia's, that the home team's batsmen will approach the problem of Graeme Swann aggressively and that their batting remains flaky.

England endured a frustrating first session, full of near-misses, reviews turned down and the occasional booming drive that resonated from Watson's blade. He and Simon Katich are often described as "makeshift", even though their coupling has been a strong one for a while and their returns better, on a match-by-match basis, than Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden, for example.

Only once did they look anything less than a close-knit pairing, when Katich pushed to cover, was guilty of ball-watching and would have been run out by yards had Alastair Cook's throw from cover been more accurate. England felt that they had broken through twice, once when Katich fell across an inswinger from Anderson, only for the Decision Review System to post a rebuke to Billy Doctrove, the umpire, and once when Andrew Strauss called for a review unsuccessfully for a leg-before against Watson.

Strauss was to be disappointed only momentarily because Anderson induced an edge off the next ball to Watson that the captain pocketed. The glee on the bowler's face could be explained only partly by the previous ball's disappointment: Watson, for some reason, seems to be to England as a red rag is to a bull. They do not like him. The bowling improved immeasurably after lunch, in the form of Anderson and Finn, which was just as well because Ponting, the Australia captain, had blessed three of the previous four opening Tests of an Ashes series with a hundred, twice on this ground. His stay on this occasion, though, was a short one as he glanced too fine down the leg side and departed cursing his ill fortune.

Michael Clarke, Ponting's replacement in more ways than one, took 16 balls to get off the mark and England thought that they had him caught behind shortly afterwards, although this was turned down in the middle and on review. That he fell eventually to an ugly attempted pull off another short ball from Finn would have only increased his self-doubt.

Cue Mike Hussey and an immediate example of how the game shifts on the finest of margins. His first ball from Finn was full and angled across him but his groping edge fell inches short of Swann at second slip, diving forward. The spinner would come to regret his deep position because Hussey was the one Australia batsman to play him with any confidence, pumping the ball down the ground for a six to the third he faced from Swann, then cutting and pulling powerfully whenever the spinner dropped short.

Until then Swann had been strangely absent, given one over before the close of the first day and one over before lunch on the second. Now, as he wheeled away in the afternoon sun, the game so many had spoken about before the series was finally on.

Penchant

Swann threatened Clarke immediately from around the wicket, probably because of the right-hander's penchant for using his feet, hoping to slide one past his outside edge, in further evidence of the thoroughness of England's planning. But Australia had planned, too, being far more aggressive in their intent. The result was a stalemate as Swann snapped up Marcus North immediately at slip, but that was to be his only success of the afternoon.

Hussey looked in the grandest of form, putting to rest the speculation that surrounded his place. His footwork and judgment of length against Swann were flawless and his confidence rubbed off on Brad Haddin, who kept him company throughout the final stages of the day.

As so often happens in these parts, a thunderstorm crept in late in the day so that, with the new ball available, the umpires took the players from the field 40 minutes before the day's end.

The England captain was upset at the decision. Possibly the umpires were too cautious, but Strauss's emotions simply reflected those of the crowd. The game is on and any delay is unwelcome. (© The Times, London)

scoreboard

Brisbane -- (Day 2) Overnight: England 260 (I Bell 76, A Cook 67; P Siddle 6-54). Australia 25-0.

Australia -- 1st inns

S Watson c Strauss b Anderson ..................................... 36

S Katich c & b Finn ................................................................ 50

R Ponting c Prior b Anderson ........................................... 10

M Clarke c Prior b Finn ...........................................................9

M Hussey not out ....................................................................81

M North c Collingwood b Swann ....................................... 1

B Haddin not out ....................................................................22

Extras (b1 lb6 w3 nb1 pens 0) .............................................. 11

Total (5 wkts 80 overs) ......................................................220

FoW: 1-78, 2-96, 3-100, 4-140, 5-143.

To bat: M Johnson, X Doherty, P Siddle, B Hilfenhaus.

Bowling: Anderson 21 9 40 2; Broad 20 3 41 0; Swann 20 4 59 1; Finn 15 0 61 2; Collingwood 4 1 12 0.

Bad light, rains stopped play early

The Ashes Day 4, Sky Sports 1, 23.30

Irish Independent

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