Strauss and Cook dominate Australia, The Gabba, day four

Straussy and Cookie get loved up for the press

Close: first Test, day four, Brisbane
Match score: England 309-1 (Cook 132*, Strauss 110, Trott 54*) and 260 (Bell 76, Cook 67, Siddle 6-54), lead Australia 481 all out (Hussey 193, Haddin 136, Finn 6-125) by 88 runs with nine second-innings wickets still remaining
Session score: England 71-0 England win
Session in six words: Cook supreme, Trott glides, Aussies deflated

England closed day four at The Gabba in a better position than they could possibly have hoped at its start. Australia had had the game by the scruff at tea yesterday, but now face the possibility of a few tricky sessions on a cracked pitch should England choose to set them a target tomorrow morning.

The day belongs to Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook for shutting out the Aussies in their opening partnership of 188. The one disappointment for Strauss will be failing to ‘make it a daddy’, as Graham Gooch likes to call a double-century. Sixteen times Strauss has fallen between 100 and 150 now, and only Kallis, Azhuraddin, Cowdrey and Mark Waugh have made more Test hundreds without reaching 200. It’s a very English trait apparently – Messrs. Vaughan, Sutcliffe, Atherton and Stewart mean England account for six of the top 12 in that dubious table.

Tomorrow Cook can ensure he doesn’t join them, against an Australian attack that looked utterly deflated by the end. This was one of his most convincing innings for his country – mind and technique finding rare synchronicity. This match may be remembered as one where two left-handers truly re-established themselves, and if at 35 Mike Hussey’s renaissance looks only fleeting, Cook’s return is a massive boost to a team who have backed him unreservedly.

Like England yesterday, dropped catches didn’t help Australia. Peter Siddle’s dive at fine leg would have been outstanding, but those are the ones that turn games like these. Brisbane 2010 won’t make the Michael Clarke scrapbook either, he had Trott in the tips of his fingers at point only to lose control falling to the turf.

You would imagine that England will look to eliminate all prospect of defeat tomorrow, though Kevin Pietersen will no doubt fancy setting a target. Although the draw looks favourite now, a fool would bet against unexpected turbulence tomorrow.

View from the stands

Tea: first Test, day four, Brisbane
Match score: England 238-1 (Cook 98*, Trott 23*) and 260 (Bell 76, Cook 67, Siddle 6-54), lead Australia 481 all out (Hussey 193, Haddin 136, Finn 6-125) by 17 runs with nine second-innings wickets still remaining
Session score: England 99-1 England win
Session in six words: Strauss falls, Cook continues to occupy

Another session, more numbers. That Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook’s opening partnership of 188 was England’s highest partnership for any wicket in an Ashes contest at The Gabba is more about how badly they have done here over the years. Strauss’s was the first hundred by an England captain at the Gabba (Ted Dexter did get 99 here in 1962), and his 110 was 34 short of Saurav Ganguly’s highest score by an opposition skipper. It was a necessary captain’s innings of strength and certainty, even if his dismissal – stumped in a muddle charging North – reflected the marshland he found himself bogged in after reaching his hundred. Trott replaced him and raced to 20, looking as fluent as he has for England, while Cook accumulated effortlessly.

It was Strauss’s first Test hundred since Lord’s last year, when he and Cook had taken Australia for 196 for the first wicket. Cook made 95 that time, and is currently in the middle of an innings of such assurance that he may end as the story the day. He will be keen to reach three figures as quickly as possible after the interval to improve a mediocre Ashes average. Siddle, Hilfenhaus and Johnson played in both games, and while in that Lord’s match Johnson impersonated a drunk grandmother, the bowling this time was, if lacking punch, certainly more disciplined.

In this Ashes, a series between two average sides, that is worth something. If the cricket in 2009 was uninspiring – England victorious through a combination of home advantage, a great spell by Stuart Broad and managing to be less bad than Australia when it mattered – after four days of engaging cricket the signs are better this time round. This match has been defined by great performances – Siddle on day one, Anderson, Haddin and Hussey on days two and three and England’s openers on day four. That Australia could do with their own 2005 to keep the spark in their cricket is evident on a Sunday when empty seats abound.

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Lunch: first Test, day four, Brisbane
Match score: England 139-0, Strauss 76*, Cook 51* and 260 Bell 76, Cook 67, Siddle 6-54), trail Australia (481 all out Hussey 193, Haddin 136, Finn 6-125) by 76 runs with 10 wickets still remaining
Session score: England 120-0 England win
Session in six words: Strauss and Cook in imperious form

Numbers are everywhere today. ‘Ten Pounded Poms’, sang the headline of The Sun Herald, in reference to the Brits given assisted package here after the second World War. But what of the eleventh? “Plus a South African captain they’ll want to send back.” Hmmm. Probably the first time Andrew Strauss has been more South African than Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott or even Matthew Prior.

England will fancy keeping Strauss now. Given a life when he shovelled Xavier Doherty to Mitchell Johnson’s moustache at mid-off  (Johnson’s drop was comic ballet), Strauss was almost imperious for the rest of the session, give or take the odd harrow-drive. He drove anything full, cut anything short, and was imaginative against the spinners – it’s not just in football that good feet matter. The problem with Strauss is always overconfidence, he has to set himself to do a Hussey and get 200 if England are to be sure of safety, not let a sprightly 130 suffice.

Less noticeable, Alastair Cook was decisive in defence and on those occasions that he latched onto the shorter stuff. Australia lacked a cutting edge. Siddle tried hard, Watson puffed and at least Johnson found some form, in terms of line and length if not wicket-taking deliveries. Doherty is tight but limited – his effectiveness continues to depend on the man at the other end and the mood of the batsmen, although he did tempt Strauss into two rash slog-sweeps just before lunch.

With the deficit nearly erased things could not have gone any better for England this morning, though they will be aware that just as things have happened in the post-lunch sessions this week wickets have fallen in clusters. It matters little being none down at lunch if six and seven are in at tea.


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