Aus shade first day

England 229 for 4
Trescothick 65, Vaughan 58, Pietersen 33*, Tait 2 for 62

Once upon a time, this would have been a normal score on the first day of an Ashes test. In the context of this extraordinary series, even allowing for the rain that only allowed 60 overs to be bowled, today’s play was positively sedate. However, there was much to enjoy. Confident batting from Trescothick, Strauss and Vaughan should have provided the basis for a large first innings total, but all of them failed to go on having made starts. For the tourists, the highlight of the day was Shaun Tait’s explosive spell after tea when he claimed his first two wickets at this level. Ricky Ponting’s removal of his opposite number shortly before the close meant that his side will be happier with the day’s events.

Once again, England won the toss and elected to bat. Before the game, the perceived wisdom was that the recent rain, combined with the tendency for Trent Bridge to support traditional swing this summer, would make the first hour or so a tricky session for the side batting first. Had McGrath been passed fit, that would probably have been the case but, in the event, Trescothick and Strauss were mostly untroubled. There was no sign of any swing, or any movement off the seam. Lee and Kasprowicz opened the bowling, but neither asked enough questions of the batsmen, who were able to move the score along fluently. Shaun Tait came and went and, once again, England were able to build a platform for a large first innings score.

At Old Trafford, facing a similar situation, Ponting waited until well after lunch before bringing on Shane Warne. Many felt that this was not a good move – if your side includes the man who has taken more test wickets than any one else in the history of the game, it seemed a shame not to use him, especially when the rest of your attack was struggling. Today, he did not repeat that mistake, and he did not have to wait long for his reward. Having reached 35 with minimal discomfort, Strauss attempted to sweep Warne but only managed a bottom edge onto his boot, which ballooned to Hayden at first slip. Whilst Strauss’ aggression was to be applauded – he had successfully played numerous drives against the same bowler – he must have been desperately disappointed to fall to a poorly executed stroke after he had seen off the new ball and looked set for a big score. 105 for 1 should have become 110 for 2 when Trescothick played on to Lee, but, not for the first time in the series, he was reprieved by the umpire’s call of a no ball: one of 18 in the morning session. England went on to take lunch at 129 for 1, with Trescothick on 62 and Vaughan on 14.

Any thoughts they might have had about pushing on were put on hold by the heavy rain that began just before the post-lunch session was due to start. Although a brief spell of brighter weather allowed three overs to be bowled in the middle of the afternoon, further showers meant that no further play was possible until after tea. Then, we were treated to a terrific spell of fast bowling by the debutant. Before lunch, Tait’s first five overs had gone for 26, and the youngster had rarely threatened. Now however, he found a much better groove and as almost immediately successful. With the total on 137, he sent a fast in-swinging yorker through Trescothick’s defences to claim his first test scalp. The opener had reached 65, and, prior to the rain break, had looked set for a big score. Being critical, he did leave a sizeable gap for Tait to find, but it was still a fine piece of bowling. Naturally he was ecstatic, and he didn’t have to wait long for further celebration, taking the edge of Ian Bell’s bat to give Adam Gilchrist a routine catch.

105 for 0 had become 146 for 3, and England were distinctly wobbling. Australia should have had made more inroads. Kasprowicz put down Pietersen off his own bowling, and Vaughan was badly missed by Hayden in the gully, again off the bowling of Kasprowicz. Had those chances been taken, the tourists would have been well and truly on top. Instead, the latest beneficiaries of the shoddy catching that has characterised this series were able to take England past 200. After his let-off, Vaughan was batting increasingly fluently, and some of his drives were quite exquisite. He had reached 58 when he surprised everyone by edging one of Ricky Ponting’s gentle away-swingers through to Gilchrist. It was hard to say who was more amazed. Vaughan looked virtually suicidal at once again giving away his wicket to a part-time bowler. Ponting, of course, was exultant. Having saved the last test with his bat, his bowling has now opened the way for his side to take charge of this one. Pietersen and Flintoff avoided any further mishap and, when the rains returned, England had reached 229 for 4. Pietersen was lucky to still be there. As well as the dropped catch, Hayden had missed a good chance to run him out. On another occasion, a cut fell just short of Ponting in the gully, and there were numerous expansive plays and misses. England will be hoping that he is now able to ride his luck and build a big innings tomorrow. If not, it seems unlikely that they will be able to post the sort of total that will allow them to dominate the match.

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