It started with Michael Clarke being described as a genius; it ended with England making a somewhat embarrassing attempt to protect Stuart Broad.
The hosts ended the first day on 289-7, having recovered from 28-3 only to throw away their advantage once again by losing three wickets for 12 runs – a familiar sight these days. That mini-collapse was engineered by Steve Smith, of all people. While there certainly were some good deliveries from the bits-and-pieces player, it was perhaps the sheer and utter surprise from seeing him bowl that had foxed England so. The spinner ended the day with figures of 6-1-18-3, an unimaginable scenario after not even being thought of as a bowling option at Trent Bridge.
England had won the toss and elected to bat first under blistering hot conditions on a track which looked fairly flat. It was much like Trent Bridge and, much like the first innings in Nottingham, skipper Alastair Cook departed early.
The Aussie skipper made an inspired choice to bring on Shane Watson in the fifth over and it immediately paid off. Cook was caught leg-before and sent on his way for 12, followed back to the dressing room by Joe Root in the very next over. Kevin Pietersen followed soon and after six overs, the hosts were on the backfoot at 28-3.
At the centre of the carnage was Ryan Harris. The right-armer came in to replace Mitchell Starc and ended the day with fruitful returns. Harris, when he manages to remain injury-free, is a fierce bowler. His efforts earned him three wickets for 43 runs on the first day, on a track where the seamers had to work extra hard to gain anything at all.
England needed a little bit of CPR and the rescue effort from Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell put them back on course. Trott played his usual dependable knock, chipping in with 58 before he was sent on his way. The pair had done the hard work, though, with a 99-run partnership which ended in a rather unflattering fashion.
As the pressure eased off, Trott pulled a short ball straight to deep square leg and his innings came undone. The stage was set for Bell to carry on the momentum, though, and he did. Much like his knock at Trent Bridge, Bell added a gruelling 109 off 211 before he departed.
Bell became only the fourth English player to score a century in three consecutive Ashes Tests. Before his second innings exploits in Nottingham, Bell had managed to pass 31 just once in ten innings. His place in the Test team was never really under threat, but his resilience has been remarkable. It might not have been quite a vintage Bell innings, but just like at Trent Bridge, it was an invaluable knock. His experience and guidance would have played a part in Jonny Bairstow’s innings, too. Bairstow, although still shaky in his forward stride, looked far better with opening the face of the bat. Alongside Bell, the pair contributed 144 for the fifth-wicket partnership.
Bairstow’s flawed technique was briefly exposed, though, when he swung across the line off Peter Siddle and his stumps were castled. Fortunately for the Yorkshireman, Siddle had overstepped and he was given a second life.
As the scoreboard ticked over to 271-4, after having England 127-4, Clarke must have been getting a bit frustrated. So frustrated that he chucked the ball to Steven Smith. With his first choice spinner Ashton Agar having endured a rough ride and then going off the field with an injury, Clarke opted for Smith. The part-time spinner repaid his captain’s faith with three wickets in the dying overs of the game.
Smith’s run at the end of the day was surprising, so surprising that he himself might even have struggled to believe it. His dismantling started with a perfect legbreak delivery which signalled the end of Bell. Just a few overs later and Bairstow had lost his composure and hit a low full toss straight back to Smith – and England was back to looking unsettled.
Prior followed soon after, with Smith managing to get just a hint of turn out of the Lord’s pitch. The wicketkeeper’s poor run of form continued as he edged through to Brad Haddin. England were rattled and that seemingly affected their impact their thought-process regarding their batting order.
With not even six overs remaining in the day, out strolled James Anderson, in the role of nightwatchman just after 18:00 in a country where night only starts at 22:00. Unless Broad is still concerned about the knock he picked up on his shoulder in the first Test, the decision to send Anderson out ahead of him is inexcusable and utterly baffling.
Anderson survived, though, and alongside Tim Bresnan, the English tail will return tomorrow feeling, much like they might have at Trent Bridge, like they shot themselves in the foot.
Day one close of play summary:
England 289-7; Ian Bell 109 (211), Jonny Bairstow 67 (146); Ryan Harris 20-6-43-3, Steve Smith 6-1-18-3 DM
Photo: Australia’s Steve Smith throws a ball during a practice session ahead of their T-20 matches against Sri Lanka , in Colombo August 1, 2011. Australia will play two T20, five ODI and three test cricket matches against Sri Lanka. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
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