At the halfway point, the jury was once again out surrounding the innings played by Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott, but by the time Australia had limped to 221 for nine it had very much given its verdict.
England’s top-order has stuck unfailingly to its measured approach despite recent pummellings at the hands of New Zealand and the resulting heavy criticism that that brought. Today, they were no different and Alastair Cook, Bell and Trott once again took the safety first option. They laid the platform for the hitters Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler to fire as they had at Trent Bridge, but they both failed and it was left to Ravi Bopara to lift them to a total that was only around par on an easy-paced pitch.
That total of 269 for six proved more than enough for an Australia side seemingly still dazed from their thrashing at the hands of India in the warm-up match on Tuesday. The opening pair of Shane Watson and David Warner, normally so destructive, were subdued in the face of impressive opening spells from Stuart Broad and James Anderson.
They had struggled to 17 in the sixth over by the time Broad found the edge of Warner’s bat and a diving Jos Buttler clung on to end his innings at nine for 21 balls. Watson made 24 off 40 balls before he was caught by Cook via his pad.
Phil Hughes and stand-in captain George Bailey began a recovery, but they too found the going tricky on a pitch that was taking spin and was on the slow side. Even the part-time off-spin of Joe Root wasn’t targeted as he got through his five overs at a cost of just 20 runs and picked up the wicket of Hughes.
James Tredwell, playing in place of Graeme Swann, who had a slightly sore back, was at his reliable best and ended Australia’s challenge by having Bailey caught on the boundary. Bailey played the first properly aggressive stroke of his innings and picked out Root at long-on to leave the lower-order facing an impossible task. James Faulkner did his best and finished on 54 not out off only 42 balls but it was nowhere near enough.
All of which means that Bell and Trott are left with plaudits rather than criticism for their second-wicket stand of 111 in 22 overs. The relative ease with which they accumulated runs on their home ground made one think that the pitch was rather better than it apparently was and they were undoubtedly helped by Australia’s puzzling reluctance to play a spinner.
Both, though, will be disappointed with the manner of their dismissals, just short of milestones. Trott chased a wide ball from Mitchell Starc and edged through to Matthew Wade for 43 off 56 balls, while Bell was bowled by a straight ball that kept a little low when nine runs shy of a home hundred.
Root, Morgan and Buttler all went cheaply as England threatened to end up well short. Fortunately, the mercurial Bopara was on one of his better days and shepherded them to a competitive total.
The manner of England’s victory - a platform laid by the top-order for the lower-order hitters and then the unleashing of their pace attack - goes someway towards placating the critics of that strategy, but it remains to be seen how it will fare when they are faced with a more confident and more aggressive batting line-up that sees chasing 300 as almost a formality.
© Cricket World 2013
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