Warne and Strauss own day one

The first day of the final Ashes test dawned bright and sunny, and while the pre-match news looked good for Australia, on the field things immediately fell England’s way. Glenn McGrath had been passed fit on the day before the match, but Ricky Ponting called incorrectly at the toss, and for the fourth test in a row England got the opportunity to bat first on a comfortable track and took full advantage of it with a strong start. There was a fraction of swing for Lee and plenty of bounce for both bowlers, but no great problems presented themselves for England and the scoreboard was soon ticking over quickly. Brett Lee got the closest to a breakthrough when a length ball swung sharply after pitching and struck Trescothick on the pad, but Bowden judged that the ball was slipping down leg, and otherwise Lee missed the correct line and presented few problems. McGrath bowled quite well but was slightly more inaccurate than his usual metronomic best, and when Shaun Tait replaced Lee he was forced to face the biggest match of his career with two set batsmen and the score on 38 without loss.

Not for the first time in the series, Australia were forced to turn to Shane Warne before the end of the first hour after being forced into the field. Strauss and Trescothick had dealt comfortably with the unthreatening spells by the opening seamers, but Warne was a different prospect and in his only over before the drinks break he caused a few problems with some sharp turn. After drinks the run rate continued to rise as England attacked the bowling. Once again though it was Warne who kept Australia in the hunt with a remarkable wicket against the flow of the match. Bowling around the wicket to Trescothick, he forced the batsman on to the back foot with a tricky length and caught the edge, and Hayden at slip took a memorable catch, coming forward and taking it sharply just inches above the ground. Michael Vaughan came to the crease and was immediately confronted by the tandem of McGrath and Warne, as Australia searched desperately for back-to-back wickets. Vaughan started well though, and a pair of boundaries off Warne stopped Australia from tightening the screw and building pressure. McGrath continued to look slightly below his best and struggled to maintain a line and length as he usually would, and England’s score cruised past 100 as lunch approached.

Warne was pulling out all his variations on a relatively unhelpful surface, even displaying a rare flipper and regularly changing his pace. Eventually his variations paid off and he picked up his 30th wicket for the series with one that bounced more than expected by Vaughan, and caught the England captain unwisely looking for a back foot shot against the spin. Vaughan could not adjust for the extra bounce from the topspinner and flicked the ball with poor balance in the air on the leg side, where Michael Clarke took an excellent diving catch. England were now two down and presented with a difficult quarter-hour before lunch, when one more wicket for Australia would give them the session. Once again, Warne did the job. Bowling the second last over of the session, he had one ball to the new batsman Ian Bell before the break and trapped him in front with a deceptive slider. This wicket capped off a magnificent seven over spell that yielded three wickets. Shaun Tait bowled one wayward over and then lunch was called, with England 3/115 and on the back foot.

Warne was joined by Lee after the lunch break, and both began superb, threatening spells which kept England firmly on the back foot. Lee improved significantly from his morning spell and bowled with pace, accuracy and the occasional bit of movement, while Warne continued where he left off in the morning session, utilising his many variations perfectly to create constant problems for the batsmen. Twenty minutes after the break the fourth wicket came, when Warne completely decieved his Hampshire teammate Kevin Pietersen. With in-drift reminiscent of a decade ago Pietersen was decieved in the air, and he was clean bowled as his flick on the leg-side missed completely. Warne’s most rarely seen variations appeared as well, as a bemused Strauss left a delivery wide of off and it spun away from him. Lee pushed over 95 miles an hour on a few occasions as his spell continued, striking Flintoff on the head to welcome him to the crease and beating the bat regularly, but remained without a wicket. Flintoff and Strauss dug in well and survived the rest of Lee’s spell without incident, and he was eventually replaced by McGrath, who as in his last test at Old Trafford was struggling for wickets on the first day.

After drinks, a huge bat-pad appeal for Warne was turned down, and afterwards Flintoff and Strauss began to look set upon a significant partnership. They began to settle and play Warne more comfortably, McGrath continued to look less dangerous than normal and the partnership total moved past 50 as Shaun Tait came into the attack. Tait began well and immediately found a hint of reverse swing, while Warne was rested and Katich brought on in his stead in an attempt to break the partnership. Strauss and Flintoff took the score past 200 though, as England slowly regained control of the match and Strauss approached his second century of the series. Tait managed to beat the bat of Strauss a couple of times before the tea break, and Flintoff had one dangerous moment with a wild slog off the bowling of Katich, but in the end it was England’s session as they added 98 runs for just the loss of Pietersen, and Strauss went to tea unbeaten in the 90s.

Following the tea break, Flintoff launched into action with some brutal strikes. The third over of the final session went for 12 runs as Flintoff took on Warne, and immediately afterwards Strauss reached his century and England were pulling away towards a large first innings total with the partnership in excess of 100. Strauss became the first multiple century scorer in a bowling-dominated series, and up until drinks England continued to dominate as the score raced on past 250 and the situation began to look dire for Australia. Brett Lee appeared to have Strauss caught behind as the century-maker wafted at a reverse-outswinger and edged it through to Gilchrist, but a subdued appeal behind the stumps mystified an utterly convinced Lee, and umpire Koertzen turned it down. Replays confirmed it was indeed a significant edge, and Australia’s poor fortune with umpiring decisions continued.

After drinks the frustration for Australia continued to grow as Warne repeatedly beat the bat of both batsmen without luck and the partnership rolled on, but the introduction of Glenn McGrath brought the breakthrough as Flintoff sent a simple edge off a standard corridor delivery to the safe hands of Shane Warne at slip. Once again Flintoff had contributed to an England revival, but despite the 5th wicket stand of 143, Australia were still in with a chance of dismissing England for a reasonable total with the score standing at 5/274. England were left with a tricky period to survive between the fall of Flintoff and the arrival of the new ball, and they negotiated Warne quite well. Tait however was finding some dangerous reverse swing and threatening to bowl something unplayable at any moment, and eventually he did when a full ball curved back brutally at Paul Collingwood, hit him on the toe and Rudi Koertzen raised his finger. However, replays suggested that Collingwood was hit outside the line and should not have been given out. Geraint Jones came to the crease all the way down at number 8, and started well in difficult circumstances, as he was tested by Tait’s sharp reversing yorkers.

As the final over before the new ball rolled around, Australia seemed in need of one final breakthrough to swing the game back their way again, and it came when Simon Katich took the second truly brilliant catch of the day. Strauss came forward and played defensively to Warne, but the ball popped up down the wicket from the edge and Katich threw himself across the pitch and took it in one hand to give Warne his 5th wicket for the day. Ponting declined the new ball at first to continue with the dangerous Tait, and Geraint Jones immediately brought up the 300 with a bizarre top edge over slips from a full delivery. Tait continued to reverse the ball sharply but couldn’t get another breakthrough, and as Warne appeared to be struggling with wrist pains after 34 grueling overs, the new ball was taken with less than ten minutes remaining until stumps. McGrath and Lee sent down the final overs of the day without success, and England made their way to stumps with 7 wickets down after a closely fought day. Yet again the packed ground has been treated to a brilliant, unpredictable day of cricket that lived up to all that had come before it in this truly amazing series.

Australia will be pleased to have taken seven wickets on a flat pitch after losing the toss, and any score of less than 350 will leave the door open for Australia to gain a first innings lead if they bat well, and potentially win the test, weather permitting. Australia’s fielding was much improved from earlier efforts today, as all catches went to hand and the ground fielding was close to flawless. Aside from poor early spells from Lee and Tait, the bowling was also of a very high standard, and Shane Warne was at his brilliant, deceptive, nigh-unplayable best despite bowling on a wicket that gave him very little assistance. England fans were nevertheless treated to some excellent batting from Strauss and Flintoff, without whom Australia would indeed be well on top. England will be hoping that Jones can combine with the tail to push the score up significantly on the second day, as with a moderate total on the board and one of their most dangerous bowlers missing, England may have some problems in the field. The significant reverse swing for Tait today bodes well for Andrew Flintoff, but England’s best user of the old ball is still missing, and with the chance of knocking England over quickly tomorrow and the pitch still excellent for batting, Australia will feel that the first day, however marginally, belonged to them.

Score Summary
England 7/319
Andrew Strauss 129, Andrew Flintoff 72
Shane Warne 5/118, Glenn McGrath 1/48

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