Disciplined Pietersen hangs on in there as Australia turn the screw on England
Visitors putting up a better fight but disciplined bowling makes life tough at the MCG
Melbourne Cricket Ground was packed to the rafters as 91,092 people turned up, beating the old official record of 90,800 when West Indies were here in 1961, the difference now probably the number of England support staff.
They witnessed a day of attrition in which England finally thrust off their Adelaide disease where, philanthropists to a man, they donated their wickets. Instead they tried to sell them dearly, while Australia throttled the life out of the innings with disciplined bowling.
For hour after hour it became a game of who blinked first. As always there is a balance to be drawn between attack and defence but England’s batting has been under the hammer all series while the cricket world is full of have-a-go-yer-mug heroes who are the first to criticise when wickets are thrown away. There are no complaints from this quarter.
By the close, it was Australia once more who held the upper hand, the second new ball making inroads into the lower order.
England reached 226 for six, with everyone but Ben Stokes of the top six – removed by Mitchell Johnson’s third delivery with the second new ball – batting for an hour or more.
But only Kevin Pietersen, in a display of great self-denial, went on to reach a half century. He remained unbeaten on 67, having batted for five minutes more than four hours, passing Geoffrey Boycott’s England Test career tally of 8,114 runs.
Whether Michael Clarke’s decision to bowl first on winning the toss for the fourth time was a good one only time will tell. It is rarely a good idea to make such judgments until both sides have batted. Certainly the decision was out of character because, ever since Ricky Ponting’s disastrous insertion of England at Edgbaston in 2005, Australia have put the opposition in on only three previous occasions, one of which was against New Zealand in Hobart two years ago when they lost
Once they had got some early first-hour profligacy out of the way, the Australian attack, led by Ryan Harris, were first class.
One day Harris will bowl a half-volley but hell will freeze over first. Later in the day, as the noise in the stadium crescendoed and the adrenaline flowed, Johnson bowled like the wind.
It was by no means a flawless performance from Australia. Catches were missed: one at third slip by Steve Smith, a diving effort, to reprieve Michael Carberry when he had made two of his 38 runs; and a second when Pietersen had only six, and, hooking Harris, was caught on the long-leg boundary by Nathan Coulter-Nile, fielding as substitute for the temporarily injured Shane Watson, who then stumbled over the boundary rope instead.
A third came when Pietersen, on 41 now, pulled Harris from the front foot and George Bailey failed to hold on to a stinging catch at midwicket.
Without Pietersen, England would be hanging on by their fingernails. In fact this was probably a good toss for England to lose, for although advice from local sages was to bat first, the cloudiness, warmth and humidity of the morning, as well as Australian’s dominance with the ball, persuaded Clarke otherwise: Alastair Cook says he would have batted. Certainly there was nothing like the orthodox swing that might have been anticipated, but there was some movement off the seam. Nathan Lyon was brought on as early as the 10th over, one of three bowling changes made by Clarke in the opening 13 overs, and immediately found some first-day dampish-pitch turn and bounce.
Cook and Carberry gave England a bright start, cutting and driving well, with 44 runs coming in the first hour. At which point Australia regrouped and began to turn the screw.
Cook pushed away from his body and was caught at second slip off Peter Siddle to end a 48-run opening stand.
Carberry had been rendered virtually strokeless by the dual determination of the bowlers to fire outside offstump and his own to ignore the deliveries.
But he can be attacked from round the wicket, making his judgment less certain and, on 38, Watson angled one in from there and clipped his off-stump when he offered no stroke.
Together Carberry and Joe Root had doubled the score, although it was the heaviest of going for the Yorkshire player.
When Root was then caught at the wicket off Harris an hour or so after lunch, England were 106 for three and in trouble.
Ian Bell and Pietersen added 67 for the fourth wicket. Pietersen had taken 13 balls to get off the mark, pulling Siddle firmly to mid-wicket, one of only three scoring shots in the first hour of his innings.
But he was playing straight once more, eschewing the fancy trademark flicks to the onside and avoiding the baited traps.
He lost Bell for 27 when Harris returned for another spell half an hour before the second new ball, and Stokes shortly after it had been taken, although not before the young allrounder had belted Lyon’s final over with the old ball for four and six.
Jonny Bairstow soon followed. As expected, he had replaced Matt Prior after a run of 60 successive Tests, just five short of Alan Knott’s record for an England wicketkeeper.
This was not an ideal time to be returning to the side, with Johnson and the new ball, and, having top edged him fortuitously for six, over the head of the keeper, Bairstow was nowhere near in line as Johnson ripped one through the gate and pegged back his off-stump. – Guardian Service