Honours even in fascinating day

The second test in Birmingham started badly for Australia, before the teams even took to the field. During a routine warmup before the start of play, Glenn McGrath rolled his ankle standing on a cricket ball. He was rushed to hospital for tests, and ligament damage ruled him out of the entire test, and perhaps further into the series.

From there, things didn’t get much better for Australia for some time. Michael Kasprowicz was called up into the team to replace the Man of the Match winner from Lords, and Ricky Ponting won the toss to brighten Australia’s day somewhat. His decision to bowl first seemed reasonable enough at first on what some expected to be a bowler-friendly pitch early on, but it quickly appeared to be the other way around, as neither Brett Lee or Jason Gillespie got any movement in the air or off the wicket, and England roared off to a fantastic start, spurred on by some lovely drives through the covers from Marcus Trescothick. Instead of the early seamer expected, the pitch was slow and low, with no bowler getting much carry, few balls bouncing much above stump height, and no movement available. On top of this, Brett Lee was extraordinarily wayward in his opening spell, with his first delivery barely landing on the cut strip and things not getting much better from there. Jason Gillespie was somewhat better, and he very nearly got the breakthrough when Strauss came forward to one which left him slightly and edged to the usually safe hands of Shane Warne in the slips. Warne got his hand under the ball, but the ball bounced up off the base of his palm and eluded his desperate attempts to pull it in on the second grab. From there Australia’s bad luck continued, as Michael Kasprowicz got an edge from Trescothick, this time to Matthew Hayden off a no-ball. Hayden caught the ball easily, but it didn’t matter.

While this was going on, England were rapidly increasing their scoring rate, and Ponting in desperation was forced to bring Warne on to bowl before the first hour was up, even after sending the opposition in. Warne did a good job on an unhelpful surface with a newish ball, but nevertheless Trescothick and Strauss were determined not to let him settle, sweeping, driving and using their feet to hit him off his line. As lunch approached and the seamers rotated at the other end, Trescothick reached a deserved half-century, and along with Strauss carried the score past 100. Just when it looked like the safety of lunch would come without the loss of a wicket, Warne produced some magic, and the highlight of the session for Australia. Bowling around the wicket to try and slow the scoring, he floated one into the quickly developing rough wide of Strauss’ off stump, and it spun back more than two feet to beat an attempted back-foot cut from Strauss and crash into off-stump. England took the session comfortably in the end, but Warne had restored some pride before it was done.

The second session picked up where the first left off for England, as Vaughan in particular launched into the bowlers once more, and the score raced past 150, with the third 50 of the innings taking just 42 deliveries. Kasprowicz and Gillespie suffered, but eventually the class of the Australian seamers began to show through, and the breakthroughs came. Just as Trescothick moved into the 90s, Gillespie sent down one of his best overs for the day to build some pressure at one end, and Kasprowicz got reward for his constant probing outside off-stump as Trescothick played well wide of his body and edged the ball to the experienced gloves of Adam Gilchrist. Ian Bell was the new man and he began with a flashy boundary before he got Kasprowicz’ best ball of the day, as it moved the opposite direction from his stock leg-cutter and straightened on the young right-hander, and Gilchrist had two catches in an over. More trouble was to follow for England, as a few overs later Vaughan gave Gillespie his first test wicket of the tour. Gillespie’s bouncer wasn’t particularly threatening as it passed well wide of off-stump, but Vaughan was determined to maintain the momentum for England and attempted to hook it to the boundary, but succeeded only in skying it to deep fine-leg, where Brett Lee took an excellent catch from a high ball.

Once again, the remarkable first day took another turn. Just when it looked like England were on the ropes and might crumble to a score under 300, Pietersen and Flintoff came together and forged a tremendously exciting partnership. It wasn’t always elegant and it certainly was not free of risk, but the end result was a spectacular half-century to Flintoff, and an unbroken century stand between the two exciting batsmen that lasted until the tea break. Warne, Gillespie and Lee all took severe punishment, with Warne suffering several powerful strikes from the Lancashire all-rounder, and Lee being hooked with reckless abandon. The whirlwind innings was summed up in one Lee over, where Flintoff got an excellent bouncer which he hooked way up into the air, with the ball eluding a diving Michael Kasprowicz by just inches. Moments later, a similar ball and a similar shot sailed comfortably over the rope for six. By the end of the second session, the innings run rate was up to an astonishing 5.3 an over, and it would never go below 5 again.

At tea, England were back on top at 4/289, but things were about to change once more. In the first over after tea, Gillespie got one to leave Flintoff slightly and caught him flat-footed, and Gilchrist had his third catch. Jones strode to the crease with plenty to fight for as the last recognised batsman, but he too departed quickly, as Kasprowicz got one to bounce more than expected and once again the edge was taken by Gilchrist. Giles provided more resistance than he did at Lords, and he forged a vital 49 run stand with Pietersen to push England up towards 350 and stave off an after-tea collapse. Pietersen along the way passed 50 for the third time in three test innings, and some controversy was seen as well, as for the second test in a row Warne got some seemingly certain LBW shouts turned down, and Australian captain Ricky Ponting appeared to exchange harsh words with Billy Bowden between overs after two consecutive shouts were turned down. In Warne’s next over though, he trapped Giles in front convincingly and Bowden gave it. Pietersen holed out off the bowling of Lee, giving him some joy after a dirty day in his second test back in the baggy green, but the tail held out for another hour to frustrate the Australians further. Harmison struck a carefree 17 before Warne bowled him with a floating, full slider, and Jones and Hoggard held out for over after over and kept the score ticking over, passing the psychological 400 barrier before Warne finally ended it with his fourth wicket. Australia were due a brief, tricky session with the bat, but the rain came down and ended things before it could commence, so the Australian openers returned to the pavilion, no doubt relieved.

All in all, it was a remarkable day full of constant changes and unpredictable, high standard cricket. Gillespie, Kasprowicz and Warne all toiled hard on an unhelpful wicket and did well enough to restrict England from making a huge score, but Trescothick and Strauss, and then Flintoff and Pietersen, managed to form valuable partnerships and ensure that England had something to defend on day two.

In the end, points were probably shared on the first day. After sending England in, Ponting would have been hoping for less than 407, but the pitch offered little assitance for the bowlers and no justification of Ponting’s decision at the toss, so in the end both teams will probably be fairly pleased, and looking forward to tomorrow to try and take control of the game.

England 407
Marcus Trescothick 90, Kevin Pietersen 71, Shane Warne 4/116, Michael Kasprowicz 3/80

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