Moeen Ali’s vital contributions give England the edge in Cardiff

Australia finish second day 166 behind after late lapses of concentration in Cardiff

Australias Chris Rogers walks back to the pavilion after losing his wicket for 95 runs during play on the second day of the opening Ashes Test match against England at The Swalec Stadium in Cardiff. Photograph: Getty.

Australias Chris Rogers walks back to the pavilion after losing his wicket for 95 runs during play on the second day of the opening Ashes Test match against England at The Swalec Stadium in Cardiff. Photograph: Getty.

 

Close of Day 2: Australia 264-5 trail England 430 by 166 runs

This first Test appears to have some uncanny overtones of the famous match in Cardiff six years ago. Then, after the first day, England were 336 for seven and went on to make 435. This time they resumed the second day on 343 for seven and by the time Jimmy Anderson was dismissed they had reached 430, with Moeen Ali making a fine 77 before going down with guns blazing in the cause.

Whether Australia can go on and reprise the 674 for six they made on that occasion remains to be seen, but by the close of the second day they were struggling to reach parity. The England bowling was excellent, particularly during the final session when they overwhelmed the Australians for a period. Anderson produced an immaculate spell that brought him four successive maiden overs and thus helped Moeen, who had already dismissed Steve Smith, to take the valuable wicket of Michael Clarke.

Australia will resume on 264 for five, 166 adrift still, of which the veteran opener Chris Rogers, playing in his last Test series before he retires, made 95. The day finished with Australia on the defensive, a nightwatchman in place and predatory fielders all round the bat. Already some perspective can be placed on the ease with which Joe Root had batted for England on the first day.

This was a considerably different pitch, though, to the turgid strip of the first day that emasculated the pace of the three Australian seamers. The sun shone all day and the strip looked a lighter shade of brown, an indication that some of the moisture had evaporated. There was less swing too, both with the old ball that the Australians were using in their quest to finish off the England innings and, significantly, when England had the new ball. The pace and carry was also better and more consistent so that Jos Buttler had an easier time of it behind the stumps than had Brad Haddin.

More pace, of course, means that the Australians will find more reason to bend their backs second time round, but it also means that the batsmen have pace on the ball to exploit. Were it not for the fact that the ball at times jags off the seam disconcertingly it might be seen as a belter: the number of batsmen who seem to have settled in and then got out shows it is not quite. The occasional movement is enough to keep the bowlers interested and the batsmen honest. There are still plenty of runs to be had but they won’t come easily.

It was Mitchell Starc of the Australian bowlers who prospered, adding the wickets of Moeen and Anderson to the three he had taken on the first day to finish with five for 114, which, as he looked the most dangerous bowler throughout the innings, was just reward.

Mitchell Johnson, on the other hand, will have bowled a lot worse and emerged with more flattering figures than none for 111, the century greeted with an ironic standing ovation by the crowd to which he responded in good part by doffing his cap and kissing the badge on it. The second innings might bring him something about which to cheer.

Moeen rode his luck a little but played with elegant panache for his runs. He drives sublimely through the offside in particular, reached an excellent half century from 69 balls, and was finally dismissed driving at, and edging, Starc to first slip.

Stuart Broad, meanwhile, had survived a chance to short leg in which Adam Voges, diving into the crease, unknowingly surely, grounded the ball in the flurry so that Broad was eventually recalled following replays. Broad was able to hang around long enough to help add 52 for the eighth wicket before he heaved at the first ball of the day from Nathan Lyon and was caught at the wicket.

Anderson and Broad came at Australia hard with the ball, with Broad at his most urgent and pushing the speed gun up around 90mph, a velocity he had not managed all winter. It was Anderson, though, who made England’s first breakthrough, inducing a drive from David Warner which found the edge and screamed to the right of Alastair Cook at first slip – he held on even as the ball was searing past him.

It brought to the crease Smith, and with it an air of curiosity to see quite how this young batsman had been transformed. Key is his decision to take charge of his game himself and do the simple things well. He has a trigger movement on to off stump and so is well placed to make judgment outside, and is consequently prolific off his legs. There is confidence and adventure too, and when Moeen came on he belted him twice to the onside of straight, taking the ball from outside off stump each time, and then once over extra cover for good measure.

To the credit of Cook, he kept Moeen on and was rewarded when the bowler, perhaps anticipating Smith advancing again, speared the ball in towards his legs. Somehow Smith got in a tangle, tried to work the ball square but sent it instead from a chunky leading edge to the straighter of two fielders placed short on the legside. Modern bats can be the curse of bowlers but Bradman’s edge would never have carried the ball as far.

Moeen was also to claim the wicket of Michael Clarke, who, an excellent player of spin, was looking to get after him even as Anderson was tying up the other end so brilliantly. Now, though, he came down to drive once again but this time hit a firm return catch which the bowler snaffled with ease: two huge wickets for Moeen and a huge boost to his confidence. In between times Rogers, playing immaculately, had hit 11 fours and a six and had seemed certain to reach his fourth Ashes hundred when he tried to cut Mark Wood and edged to Buttler.

There was one more wicket, that of Voges, before the close, and it went to a persevering and deserving Ben Stokes, working up a real head of steam, who got a full-length ball to jag back off the seam as the batsman looked for the drive. The inevitably mistimed shot went gently to extra cover.

(Guardian service)

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