England 238-9 (Cook 51, Lyon 4-42) v
Fourth Ashes Test, Chester-le-Street
When a side elects to bat after winning the toss on the first day of a Test match and closes on 238 for nine with a spinner having taken four wickets, it is tempting to heap blame onto that side’s batsmen. However, that overlooks the possibility that perhaps the bowling side were excellent.
Indeed, it was Australian excellence rather than English ineptitude that was the main cause of the hosts’ first day troubles in the north-east. While some pundits might point the finger of blame at Ian Bell’s apparent recklessness or Jonny Bairstow’s apparent cluelessness, that would do a disservice to both them and Australia’s bowlers; particularly Lyon.
He turned the match in the tourists’ favour either side of tea, and Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle ensured that that advantage wasn’t relinquished prior to stumps. Kevin Pietersen went after Lyon at the start of his innings, succeeding in having him momentarily removed from the attack. However, Michael Clarke brought him back and he rewarded his captain by having him feathering a catch through to Brad Haddin.
From a position of prominence at 149 for two, England slipped steadily to 197 for eight. Jackson Bird got his first Ashes wicket when Alastair Cook padded up to an inswinger to end his long vigil at 51 off 164 balls, with Ian Bell, four balls after tea, mistiming a lofted drive off Lyon to mid-off.
Australia’s seamers had bowled an impeccable line and length for much of the day and limited England’s rate of progress. Nothing illustrated that more than the snail-paced sixth-wicket partnership between the normally fluent Jonny Bairstow and Matt Prior. Admittedly the pitch was a little on the slow side, but the pair were barely given a ball to hit and took almost 20 overs to add 24.
Prior eventually succumbed to Siddle. Going wide on the crease, Siddle struck him on the pad, only for the umpire to give him the benefit of the doubt. Australia, though, continued their trend of the day of using DRS wisely and had the decision overturned; HawkEye arguing that the ball would have hit leg-stump.
Bairstow, by now growing increasingly frustrated went for a sweep shot against Lyon three overs later and was rapped on the pads. He reviewed but HawkEye wasn’t to save him so his tortured innings was brought to an end at 14 from 77 balls. Stuart Broad then completed the collapse of six for 48 by chipping Ryan Harris to cover.
Tim Bresnan, Graeme Swann and James Anderson then all reached double figures to take their side past 200 and ensure that they survived to fight another day, but it is hard to see how they can take them anywhere close to the total of almost 400 that must be about par on this pitch.
England had begun extremely cautiously after opting to bat; a decision that Alastair Cook admitted wasn’t a particularly easy one to make. He and Joe Root added 34 in 17 overs before Root became the first victim of Australia’s judicious use of the DRS. He was given not out for a caught behind appeal, but Hot Spot showed a definite mark so he was sent on his way.
Cook and Jonathan Trott then took England through until lunch without further loss but they were able to advance the score to only 57 as Australia’s bowlers began as they would go on.
Trott picked up the tempo briefly after lunch, but was caught, against the run of play, at short-leg by Usman Khawaja off Lyon. Pietersen then announced his intention of blasting Lyon out of the attack and succeeded for a short while. Ultimately, though, it was the off-spinner who would have the last laugh. Both Trott and Pietersen showed what would happen when you tried to press on against Australia’s machine-like attack.
For England, the day was a disappointment and will raise more questions about their fragile batting line-up, but for Australia just about everything - DRS, a slice of luck, a professional effort from their bowlers and fielders - went right.
© Cricket World 2013