England embarrass Australia, Melbourne, day one

Australian fans desert their team

Close: fourth Test, day one, Melbourne
Match score: England 157-0 (Strauss 64*, Cook 80*) lead Australia (98 Anderson 4-44, Tremlett 4-26) by 59 runs
Session score: England 157-0 England win
Session in six words: Strauss and Cook press England advantage

What more can you say about Mitch? There’s no point trying to rationalise how a man can go from mesmerising to miserable in one week.

If this morning was Perth, this evening has been England’s first innings at Lord’s in 2009 – Johnson’s nadir. Here, like then, he went at six an over – the ball didn’t swing for him and his line was awry – one four byes that flew wide down the leg-side embarrassing for all concerned. Rarely will Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook have been tested less in a century opening stand – Johnson’s figures may look the worst but he was not alone in easing England’s passage.

England’s shot selection was far more judicious than at Perth, helped as it was by some Western Australian sun that made bowling more difficult than it was in the overcast conditions earlier in the day. It’s been another day for milestones – Strauss the quickest batsman to 6,000 Test runs six years and 220 days after his Test debut.

It was Strauss and Cook’s 12th century opening partnership, and they will have their eyes on bettering the 196 they made at Lord’s that afternoon and then the 229 they made at Bridgetown earlier that year. The day ended with a young blonde leg-spinner wheeling away, action not dissimilar to Melbourne’s favourite son, but Steve Smith’s inclusion as a makeshift allrounder typifies the confusion that surrounds Australian cricket at the moment.

The day had started with talk of a record crowd, but the final number was clocked at 84,345, which fell dramatically as the day progressed. By the end it was no surprise that the MCG had emptied, their team had stunk the ground out all day.

The view from up high

Tea: fourth Test, day one, Melbourne
Match score: Australia 98 (Anderson 4-44, Tremlett 4-26)
Session score: Australia 40-6 England win
Session in six words: Ten Australian batsmen caught behind square

If Australia were teetering before lunch, this afternoon they took a step backwards and hurled themselves into the precipice. They managed 98 – their lowest ever first-innings score at the MCG – some feat when no state team has managed less than 300 here this season.

It has been a good day for England’s new ball pair – Anderson and Tremlett getting four wickets apiece, and Tim Bresnan the other two. Anderson in particular was superb taking 3-20 after lunch, unlucky to miss out on his five-fer after a couple of drops in the morning. There were six catches for Matt Prior as all 10 wickets fell caught behind the wicket. Australia’s batsmen were handing out presents like a green and gold Santa Claus with a sledge to catch.

It was a lesson to the English bowlers after Perth – pitch it up and you get rewards, although this pitch has had a lot in it for them. As for Australia’s batting – Hugh Jackman had more restraint when he was slogging Shane Warne around the nets in the tea break. There was a total lack of application, typified by the wild swiping of Brad Haddin, who showed at Brisbane he can knuckle down when needed. Dean Jones had written of the need for caution on this pitch – not that anyone took any notice.

How far below par the total is we will see at the end of the day, but where there was fight in the afternoon at Perth, here there was resignation. If they want a straw to clutch, Australia will look back at the Centenary Test here in 1976-77, when they scored 138 in the first innings, 419 in the second and won by 45 runs. A more tangible hope comes in the shape of Mitchell Johnson – there is swing here, but can he find it?

England huddle after Anderson wicket

Lunch: fourth Test, day one, Melbourne
Match score: Australia 58-4
Session score: Australia 58-4  England win
Session in six words: England set about Australia at MCG

Record crowd? Not on this evidence. Note to the MCG, don’t tell everyone you’re expecting 90-odd thousand because they’ll think they won’t get a ticket and stay away. A huge section of empty seats in the Members stand is proof of that.

Leo Sayer is in the house, but his adopted country won’t feel much like dancing after a first morning that bore a startling resemblance to that first session at Perth 10 days ago. Again England won the toss, again they stuck Australia in and again they set about their task like dogs to leave them teetering at 58-4 when rain forced an early lunch.

If there was doubt at Strauss’s decision to bowl first, the bowlers vindicated him. Watson was dropped twice before Tremlett got to one to rise and take the shoulder of his bat when he had five. The opening stand of 15 was 13 more than any other opening pair have managed batting first in this series. England have an impressive habit of reversing fortunes, and caught some good ones despite two drops and a missed run-out in the first few overs that threatened to set an unfortunate tone.

Phil Hughes made the early move for Australia, a cut and a drive from Tremlett’s first over briefly turning up the volume. But having done the hard work against an excellent spell by Anderson – unlucky again – and Tremlett, he sliced a drive from an innocuous enough Bresnan delivery down Pietersen’s throat at gully. At lunch Bresnan had 7-3-13-1, vindicating the decision to include him over Finn – economy is so important in a four-man attack.

Another man for whom the stats don’t lie is Ponting – out for 10, grabbed by Swann at slip off an excellent swinging delivery from Tremlett, who is looking more and more like a key member of this team going forward. Ponting now has 93 runs from 7 innings in this series, and has fallen for 12 or less in 10 of his last 16 Test innings.

Two things had to happen at some stage – a Mike Hussey failure and some luck for Jimmy Anderson, fate coming together when Hussey drove on the move and edged behind. England will note their luck came when they pitched it up.

So far so good. But England will be well aware of what happened at Perth.

Other things of note.

The batting orders – England have stuck with Ian Bell at No.6. Australia have been similarly stubborn persisting with Steve Smith above Brad Haddin. It almost cost them when Anderson fired one through Smith just before the rain. Haddin and Michael Clarke have previous for sticking together in a crisis – remember their partnership at Lord’s in 2009?

No spinner for Australia – the first time in 33 Tests that Australia have played without a specialist spinner in an MCG Test. Steve Smith could be under a bit of pressure in the fourth innings.

Referrals – England still not very good at them, wasting both their first innings appeals in the first two sessions – the first Hughes down the leg-side, the second an optimistic attempt to remove Mike Hussey LBW. That’s now 13 unsuccessful referrals for them in the series.


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