England were left to rue missed chances as Australia shaded the opening day in Adelaide. Having won the toss, Australia found progress through two solid partnerships but England created enough chances to get on top – only to drop three catches.Three wickets frittered away in an extended afternoon session undermined Australia’s workmanlike intent to build on their victory in the first Test at the Gabba by posting an unassailable first-innings score on a placid Adelaide surface. Instead, as Shane Watson and Chris Rogers fell in successive overs, then Steve Smith succumbed to the last ball before tea, England reached the break in an optimistic frame of mind they could barely have imagined.
Adelaide’s first purpose-built Test pitch looked not as much drop-in as check-in as Rogers and Watson both registered watchful half-centuries. But Watson fell for 51 as James Anderson made one cut back slightly and responded lithely to a half-hearted drive with a low return catch. Rogers followed for 72 in the next over, Graeme Swann making one turn to have him caught at the wicket – the seventh time Swann’s offspin has dismissed him in as many Tests.
That was enough to satisfy England’s first requirement: to restrict Australia’s first innings enough to stay in the game. When Monty Panesar capped an excellent afternoon holding operation by bowling Smith with one that turned, Australia had lost three wickets for 19 in 39 balls and England could justly regard themselves as ahead of the game.
Consolidation could be Rogers’ middle name. He freely admitted ahead of the Test that his position would be under review if he failed in Adelaide, and although he made his first Test fifty in Australia, he would be frustrated at not making full use of a golden opportunity. He also needed one moment of good fortune on 27 when he marginally survived an England review for lbw as Panesar turned one back into his pads. As for Watson, the times in Test cricket that he has not taken full toll after a promising start are innumerable.
Expectations of a sedate batting surface persuaded England to select two spinners in a Test in Australia for the first time for 23 years, since Phil Tufnell and Eddie Hemmings combined in Sydney, but when Australia won what had the makings of an influential toss, England knew that the dividends of that selection, if they came at all, could not be expected to come easily.
England also made good use of a rain-disrupted morning session by dismissing David Warner, who had looked in the mood to strut his stuff before he self-destructed against Stuart Broad, toe-ending him to Michael Carberry at backward point. It was an intemperate moment, part of Warner’s batting DNA and accepted with relief by England, who must have been fearing a repeat of his better than a run-a-ball hundred made on this ground against South Africa a year ago.
The mood of the Adelaide Test could not have been more divorced from the Gabba, where England had endured a 381-run drubbing. In place of intimidating batting conditions was an invitation to bat all day. Heat and humidity gave way to an unseasonably chilly morning with squally showers which forced three stoppages before the lunch and restricted the session to 14.2 overs. The crowd even decided that it would be unseemly to boo Broad.
Somehow, in a Test that looked bound to be a long haul, England had to find a way to take 20 wickets. As showers strafed the ground, there was little superficially to revive memories of how Swann and Panesar had toiled so successfully in tandem a year ago as England recovered from 1-0 down in India to win the series, but that was the undertaking they faced.
Panesar’s inclusion meant that England gave Ben Stokes a Test debut, his cap awarded by the former England captain, Andrew Strauss, before start of play. It was a risk for England to field Stokes, the rumbustious Durham allrounder, as high as No.6, and rely on him to fulfil the third seamer role; promising as he is, his form for England in one-day cricket and tour matches has so far been unremarkable. He had also batted at No.8 in the one-day series against Australia in the English summer which did not exactly suggest a connected thought process.
Stokes, brought on for the 32nd over, was solid enough in his first spell in Test cricket, but it was a demanding pitch to be thrust into the role of third seamer and Rogers, who until then had looked cagey, unsightly even against the spinners, was finally afforded enough width to bring his favourite square drive into play
The new-look Adelaide – now a multi-sport stadium with AFL the dominant partner – has been largely commended. Even dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists conceded that, as stadiums go, it possesses more style than most. The protected Moreton Bay figs still stand behind the old scoreboard at one end of the ground and you can even still see the cathedral if you are seated in the right place.
England’s attention, though, rested exclusively on 22 yards of South Australian soil. It was markedly dry, with a moisture reading of 28% compared to the 68% at the start of the Test in Brisbane.
Panesar, bowling with a blustery wind coming over his left shoulder, pulled a few down short in his early overs before providing the holding spell that England needed. Broad returned in mid-afternoon to mix things up before Anderson was heartened by the prospect of a little reverse swing to keep England in touch.
It was a pitch which did England’s pace attack few favours. Shane Warne suggested on Channel 9 before start of play that England had ordered extra chest pads and arm guards to combat the short-pitched menace of pace of Johnson. If that is so, on the evidence of the first day, many of them will remain unpacked until Perth.
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