England just ahead on first day

England ended the first day of the final Ashes Test on 234-4 with Flintoff and Collingwood unbeaten on 42 and 25 respectively.

The day began under leaden skies as England looked to put the past behind them to gain a consolation victory. Unfortunately, the fans had to wait as a brief bout of rain came to delay the start by 40 minutes. Flintoff again called correctly at the toss and elected to bat first on a good batting pitch.

McGrath took the first over of a Test match for the final time in his illustrious career, and as has been the way for many years, was immediately on the mark. Both McGrath and Lee found some movement under the grey skies as Cook and Strauss did their best to see off the new ball.

The openers rode their luck in compiling 45 before Lee got the breakthrough. McGrath and Lee had both had some close calls and McGrath had Strauss dropped by Langer at third slip when on 21 before Lee was able to remove Strauss for 29. Despite the early loss, it was still England’s best opening stand of the series.

Cook and Bell saw their team through to the luncheon interval. However, Cook was again unable to capitalise on a start and was removed by Clark for 20 to leave England at 58-2 and in a spot of bother.

Pietersen strode in at number four, promoted ahead of Paul Collingwood. With calls in the media for the talented right-hander to bat regularly at four, the England team management obliged.

Bell and Pietersen struggled to score runs initially, coming up against very accurate bowling from Clark and McGrath. However, Bell was able to find his feet and looked confident as he notched up his fourth half-century of the series. Unfortunately, he fell before reaching his ton again and was removed in a brilliant spell from McGrath.

McGrath first had Pietersen gone hooking for an unusually subdued 41 from 104 balls. In his very next over, the champion fast-bowler had Bell bowled off the inside edge for 71 and the score was 167-4. However, any thoughts of running through the remainder of the England batting line-up were dispelled by some confident strokeplay from Flintoff and Collingwood.

Flintoff began his innings with a clear intent to attack, and played his shots while Collingwood held up the other end. Warne did not look at his best as he bowled to the pair, mixing good deliveries with an unusual number of leg-side full tosses. Flintoff raced into the 40s in quick time before he and Collingwood decided to shut up shop for the evening.

None of the bowler troubled the batsmen unduly and England made their way to 234-4 when the new ball was due. Australian captain Ricky Ponting intended to take the new ball as soon as it was due, but with the natural light fading and the artificial light taking over, the umpires offered the light to the batsmen.

Only 80 overs were possible on a rain-curtailed day at the SCG, but it was enough for England to set up a good platform so they can continue onto a good total. For the Australians, it wasn’t the fairytale finish they had dreamed of for the three players retiring after the Test. However, with this Australian side, no total is enough to rule out defeat.

England 234-4
Ian Bell 71, Andrew Flintoff 42*
Glenn McGrath 2-57

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