England on the improve

The ghosts of 2005 returned to haunt Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee as England’s two most aggressive batsmen from last year’s Ashes triumph, Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff shared an unbroken 90 run partnership which saw England finish at 245 for four.

Only 18 minutes’ play was possible before lunch on day two of this curious 14-a-side match, however, before the heavens opened Steve Harmison captured the wicket of Moises Henriques,who added only four to his overnight total before being trapped in front by the England spearhead.

Upon resumption New South Wales continued to build their total while losing lower order wickets consistently. For their part, England’s bowlers looked slightly better than in their first two outings of the tour, however, the form of Harmison continues to be a concern. Despite snaring three for 95, the Durham paceman continued to spray a number of balls down leg side. It is apparent that he is yet to get his radar right in the lead up to the first Test.

Among the other bowlers, James Anderson finished with two for 45 and Ahsley Giles 2 for 46.

England’s innings got off to a disastrous start with Marcus Trescothick ominously playing on to Brett Lee after having to contend with a number of short pitched balls from Australia’s fastest bowler.

Alistair Cook’s arival at the crease saw McGrath and Lee probing for a weakness against a player whom neither had meaningfully bowled at before. Cook’s innings was a curious mixture of solid defence, crisp shot making and the occasional edge which fortuitously flew either between slips or past the stumps on their way to fine leg. The England number three eventually fell lbw to McGrath in his second spell for 59, including seven boundaries.

Andrew Strauss was not without early concerns either, being struck by Lee at one point before prospering against the new ball in compiling a delightful 50 from only 57 balls. He fell to a stunning return catch taken by Ashes hopeful Stuart Clark.

Clark’s arrival into the attack followed McGrath’s first spell which was tidy rather than threatening. It remains to be seen whether McGrath will regain the zip which has made him one of the game’s most dangerous pacemen as well as its most accurate.

Two balls after removing Stauss, Clark undid Ian Bell with a ball which moved slightly away from the batsman and took an edge on it way through to the ‘keeper. His short stay will not have answered any questions which England might have over whether to choose Paul Collingwood or Bell for the series opener on November 23.

The advent of Pietersen saw the return of Lee who tested the new batsman with a number of short pitched deliveries. This truly shapes as one of the more intriguing clashes of the summer with Pietersen taking up the challenge and luckily having a top-edged hook fall safely in the outfield.

Nevertheless, Pietersen eventually prospered and was particularly severe on any loose offerings. Once joined by captain Flintoff at the fall of Cook’s wicket, Pietersen accelerated and gave Moises Henriques a harsh introduction to the international game. For his part, Flintoff was met by a lifter from McGrath which he fended uncomfortably to square leg before being struck on the helmet by the veteran paceman. Eventually, however, the England captain’s feet began moving and he soon got into stride, especially against the slower bowling of Beau Casson and Nathan Hauritz.

A noted absentee from the New South Wales attack was Stuart McGill who did not bowl today. Given that Pietersen and Flintoff seemed to have little trouble with New South Wales’ other spinning options, McGill’s non-appearance was puzzling to say the least. He has an impeccable record against England and is likely to play in at least two of the Tests this summer. To see Flintoff and Pietersen batting with impunity late in the day at a spin-friendly venue without arguably the second-best leg spinner in the world rolling his arm over was curious to say the least. All the more given that the match finishes tomorrow andEngland are unlikely to bat again.

Pietersen will resume tomorrow on 80, Flintoff on 48 and their partnership an ominous unbroken 90. Barring more bad weather, the crowd should be treated to some fireworks when day three gets under way.

New South Wales 355-9
Phil Jaques 107, Simon Katich 68, Michael Clarke 50
Steve Harmison 3-95, James Anderson 2-45, Ashley Giles 2-46

England 245-4
Kevin Pietersen 80*, Alastair Cook 59, Andrew Strauss 50, Andrew Flintoff 48*
Stuart Clark 2-34

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