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“Sessions won” (updated at 2 hr intervals: Pre-Lunch, Post Lunch and Post Tea Sessions)
“If you want to know where the Ashes will go look out for the weatherman. A hot summer and Australia will be unbeatable; damp and windy and England will be a handful”, so said Harsha Bhogle in his online column for ESPN-Star. The weather has happily chosen to stay in the middle of that Harsha-spectrum and Australia won what might turn out to be an important toss. They chose to take first strike, of course. Langer and Hayden got off to a fairly typical start, a couple of nervous prods, a couple of spanking shots, the odd play and miss but always looking to keep the score ticking. They did just enough, overall to keep both captains interested in the game.
The English bowlers have been serving up a bit of a mixed bag. Harmison has looked every bit the consistent threat that everyone expected him to be, but Hoggard has been playing Jekyll-Hyde, a couple of promising balls interspersed with many that struggled for direction and finished limply in the hands of Jones. He has just got one absolutely right however, and Hayden’s off stump has gone for a stroll. Hayden has had a very ordinary tour so far, and this knock wouldn’t have made him feel much better. England have got the early wicket they would have wanted and equally importantly, they’ve got Ponting at the crease when the ball is still doing something and the bowlers are fresh and pumped up.
An important little 30 minutes for Ponting and Australia coming up. I reckon England will feel they can get him early, with Hoggard possibly trying to get him on the drive and Harmison possibly trying to get the leg before.
Forty minutes to go for lunch and this has been a delicious session of cricket already. Australia are finding out yet again just how much improved this England side is, as they find themselves in very unfamiliar strife at 72/4. It has been aggressive, consistent, well directed fast bowling from England and I suspect Australia simply aren’t used to seeing this from them (or from anyone else in fact). This has been most apparent in the way they have, without exception, been beaten by pace when playing the pull. A consequence perhaps, of having been fed relatively harmless pickings in the recent past.
So now we have Katich and Clarke at the crease against Flintoff and Jones, perhaps Generation-Next as far as the Ashes battles go. This will be a crucial innings for Clarke, he hasn’t spent a lot of time in the middle on this tour and Australia, even granted that Gilchrist is still to come, cannot afford to lose another wicket for a couple of hours. They *have* lost another wicket, Clarke is gone too and now Australia are 87/5!! That brings Gilchrist to the wicket and he is going to be the difference between Australia getting close to 300 or getting bowled out for 150. Flintoff has bowled marvellously to Gilchrist all summer and it will be a fantastic little battle.
Four slips, three gullies. Bowler bowling around the wicket to Adam Gilchrist. How many times has that happened in cricket? And that pretty much sums up the state of things at lunch. Australia are 97/5 and in desperate trouble. The one man who can haul them away to safer shores (and do so with astonishing speed) is still batting however and Gilchrist v England will be the defining battle of this next session. Pre-lunch honors comprehensively to the home team, however.
Gilchrist goes! Honestly, Flintoff has bowled as well as anyone as ever bowled to Gilchrist and has dismissed him yet again. 126/6 now Australia and 200 looks rather distant. Not often that one gets to see Warne walk out to bat 20 minutes after lunch on the first day of a Test, and this should be fun. Vaughan has got to get Harmison back into the attack too!
Shane Warne has been featured in a lot of the news stories ahead of the series but very little of it had to do with his batting. Today though, he is playing a crucial little knock, going strong on 28 as of this writing. 5 boundaries in it so far, and he has survived due to equal parts determination and luck. Katich meanwhile has been as calm and collected as ever and as a result, Australia have moved on to 175 at the drinks interval. They will want this partnership to go on for a little while longer and take them past 200. England will fancy getting Warne though. He has, for some strange reason, taken to walking across his stumps when playing Harmison and he should guard against the fuller ball on leg and middle.
And so it goes. Warne shimmies across his stumps, and Harmison blasts through to knock the leg stump out. One ball later Katich, who had been showing exemplary patience so far, decides to pull from outside off and skies it up in the air. Australia: 178/8 and in a mighty struggle to avoid being bowled out before Tea on the first day.
One of the many (impressive) qualities about this English side is that in Flintoff and Harmison, they have two fearsome bowlers that are rarely, if ever, going to let a tail wag for very long. And so it proved today as well. Once Warne got himself out to a silly shot, the innings folded pretty quickly, with Harmison assuming the role of wrecker-in-chief and finishing with a 5-wicket haul. Right then, Australia are going to bowl about 45 overs at England today, and in those 50 overs might well lie the key to the first Test. England to begin their reply in a few minutes after a wonderful bowling performance.
McGrath is at it again! After a fairly sedate start, he’s got two wickets right after tea and it is England’s turn now to struggle for runs. The (slight) worry for Australia at this point is that Lee has not found a whole lot of swing or seam. He’s bowling furiously fast however, and that is proving hard enough to handle. It is going to be interesting to see how things unfold for the batting side once Gillespie and Warne begin bowling. England 14/2, 20 min after tea.
The carnage continues throughout the first hour after tea. McGrath snapped up three more wickets to clean up England’s top order in one sustained spell of brilliantly accurate bowling. A couple of those dismissals were to balls that kept a touch low which suggests that 190 wasn’t all that bad a total. And considering that England are 25/5, 190 looks magnificent. Suddenly, the pitch is getting a lot of attention and some of it is deserved, but I think it has largely been brilliant bowling all day. England did it in a pack, McGrath is doing it alone. One of KP and Jones will have to counterattack and get some runs for England soon!
England finish Day I on 92/7 and the only reason it does not sound too bad is because they were 25/5 a couple of hours ago. They will feel much obliged to KP and Geraint Jones who kept them in contention with a very gritty 6th wicket partnership, but England undid all that work by surrendering two late wickets in the day. If they had gone in 5 down, it would have been a perfectly even first day but now, the advantage is with Australia. England will look to KP to get them to 150 to stay close to Australia and give themselves a chance to win it down the home stretch that lies a couple of days ahead. Regardless, it has been a marvellous day’s cricket and the occasion matched, even exceeded, the hype preceding it. More of the same tomorrow please!