Honours almost even, The WACA, day one

Watching from the bank

Close: third Test, day one, Perth
Match score: England 29-0, Australia 268 (Hussey 61, Haddin 53, Johnson 62; Anderson 3-61, Tremlett 3-63)
Session score: Australia 89-4, England 29-0 England win
(just)
Session in six words: Openers hold firm after tail-end biffing

One of those odd sessions that seems to go on for ever. Under a clear Perth sky and baking sun, Australia squeezed another 89 runs out of England – most unlikely when Brad Haddin went so early in the session. Jimmy Anderson and Mitchell Johnson had some verbal volleyball that only succeeded in focusing Johnson’s most destructive tendencies – when the stars collide he is one of cricket’s cleanest hitters. He helped steer Australia to 268, far closer to the 304 that is the average first innings score of the last five years here than they could have hoped for at 69-5.

England kept going manfully, but with Steven Finn struggling with a sore calf and James Anderson cramping up, they looked something resembling ragged in the field for the first time since the Haddin-Hussey partnership in Brisbane. After the frustration of Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus refusing to go away at the end they will have been happy to avoid losing a wicket in 12 overs before the close when Harris again looked the most threatening of the Australian seamers.

Australia didn’t quite make the most of a rare chance to see the England batsmen under pressure – a rising Harris delivery that caught Strauss’s handle but dropped short of Ponting at second slip their only real threat. Opening the bowling with Hilfenhaus seemed an odd decision – the Siddle/Hilfenhaus partnership had been one of adrenaline, and with a pumped-up crowd the timing seemed right for bowlers who would hit the keeper’s gloves with pace. Hilfenhaus is more middle lane than fast lane, and England emerged unscathed on a pitch that is getting better and better.

An odd day. England probably would have taken it from the start, but at 69-5 they were looking at Ashes over. The fightback came this time, and it won’t be easy for England from here.

England in the sun

Tea: third Test, day one, Perth
Match score: Australia 179-6 (Haddin 52*, Johnson 25*)
Session score: Aus 114-2, England win
Session in six words: Australia counter attack but lose Hussey

On Tuesday I spent 45 minutes in the company of Justin Langer. If there was a Church of batting, Langer would be a fervent Cardinal, Western Australia his diocese.  Most of what Langer has done over the last 40 years has been based around discovering how to see a cricket ball better, how to hit it more truly. He comes across as a guy who could get high off a cover drive, and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. Middle-order, No.3 or opening the batting, Langer toughed it out for his country on and off for 13 years, now he is the Australian batting coach.

What he made of this morning is anyone’s guess. Well as England bowled, they didn’t get Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke out – they nicked themselves off, flirting needlessly outside off peg. “More application, less subjugation”, Langer might be advising them now.

A trend over Langer’s career was his increasingly expansive attacking game – he made a conscious resolution to put bowlers on the back foot at every opportunity. It is no coincidence that Australia’s best batsmen in this series have been Shane Watson, Michael Hussey and Brad Haddin – decisive in defence and crushing when they counter. That the same three have been the only ones to turn up today suggests that the problem lies as much with Ponting and Clarke as England’s bowlers, and that they need to find some batsmen with the resolve to cope with the new ball.

Hussey and Haddin have been Australia’s Langer and Hayden this series – the go-to partnership. The problem is they bat at No.5 and No.7. It’s easy to see why England don’t like bowling at them – left hand/ right hand, Hussey’s cuts and pulls and Haddin’s excellent straight driving – not easy to settle against, ask Steve Finn. Given that Langer could never get his head around off-spin, it was appropriate that Graeme Swann was the man to split them, persuading a dipping, spinning off-break to smooch the edge of Hussey’s bat when he had 61.

You doubt there are many more Langers and Husseys growing up in Western Australia, where the new generation are more likely to think focus is a type of car. Phil Hughes and Steve Smith have talent, but Australian fans may have a frustrating few years while they find out whether there is guts and determination to match.

The WACA

Lunch: third Test, day one, Perth
Match score: Australia 65-4 (Hussey 28*, Smith 5*, 26 overs)
Session score: Aus 65-4 England win
Session in six words:
Aussies mentally and technically worked over

A cracker at The WACA. Bowlers can make their captain look genius or moron. This morning Chris Tremlett made Andrew Strauss look like Mike Brearley after he won the toss and stuck Australia in on a green top that is only going to get flatter. Tremlett got Phil Hughes in his first over, taunting him with memories of his failure against the short ball last English summer. Short, short, short. Full, full, full. And that was enough, the double bluff leaving Hughes swishing crookedly semi-forward as the ball hit the stumps. Australia have picked a young man short on technique when he is clearly not in form. They must have patience.

It got better. Paul Collingwood caught Ricky Ponting high to his right with the type of leap most people reserve for the local swimming pool. In an open press box English reporters cheered with the crowd below. Soon after Clarke was gone, Prior holding on to give Tremlett another one. Two big wickets from two balls that could have been left alone by Australia’s two most important batsmen. When Steve Finn hit Watson on the toe straight in front England’s morning was even better, although with Hussey and Haddin still to shift there is work to do.

Watching Tremlett it is hard to believe this is only his fourth Test – he has the attributes to have played 50+ by now. His line was good and he used the bounce to his advantage, happy to mix his lengths so that no batsman was entirely comfortable going forward to him. He will have more difficult mornings from a purely cricketing perspective, but given the pressure of an Ashes series it was a very positive response.

Where England had been bold with their selection, Australia were baffling. Despite Andrew Hilditch having earlier said that Michael Beer would feature in this Test the selectors then back-tracked embarrassingly, picking four quicks and leaving Michael Beer in the cooler.

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