By Prakash Govindasreenivasan
After a nerve-wrecking contest in the first Ashes Test at Trent Bridge, England and Australia returned to the field, this time at Lord’s, for the second round of the highly-engaging duel. Here are the talking points from the first day’s play.
1. Darren Lehmann pulls off another gamble
Darren Lehmann is turning out to be one hell-of-a-gambler as Australia struck the most rhythmic chord with their selection once again. At Trent Bridge, it was the 19-year-old Ashton Agar, who enthralled thousands with a record-breaking 98 batting at No 11. At Lord’s, on a bright Thursday morning, it was Ryan Harris. He and Usman Khawaja walked into the side to replace Mitchell Starc and Ed Cowan respectively. While Khawaja’s move was a no-brainer, given Cowan’s struggle with the bat, Harris’s inclusion in place of Starc came as a surprise. Starc had done decently well at Trent Bridge, picking up five wickets in two innings and yet, had to make way for Harris.
The move was a risky one and much to Lehmann’s delight, it paid off. Harris struck twice in the same over to deflate the home side on a wicket that promised to assist the batsmen as the day progressed. His first victim was Joe Root. A full delivery struck the opener on the pads and was given out, only for Root to contest with a referral. Replays suggested that Root got his bat on the ball but hot spot showed that the bat came a fraction of a second after it had struck his pads in line. Technology can be cruel sometimes, and so was the case as Root had to walk back.
Harris then bowled a lovely good-length delivery to get rid of Kevin Pietersen. It was the perfect scenario for Pietersen to get his eye in and terrorise an inferior bowling unit. But, his inability to watch the ball closely in the early stage of his innings led to his downfall. He shuffled a bit and a thin edge carried to wicketkeeper Brad Haddin to leave England tottering at 28 for three.
Just when England looked like they could rebuild after conceding the first session, Harris returned for a crucial breakthrough. Jonathan Trott (58) and Ian Bell had added 99 runs for the fourth wicket before Trott gave in. He couldn’t resist a seductive short-pitched delivery and went for the pull, only to hit it straight to Khawaja at deep square-leg.
2. Records galore for Ian Bell
With a dab behind point for a brace, Ian Bell got to his third Ashes century in the second session. It happened to be his 19th ton in Tests and his fourth at Lord’s, equaling Allan Lamb’s number. Bell also became the fourth English player to score centuries in three consecutive Tests, after the likes of Chris Broad, Wally Hammond and Jack Hobbs.
Continuing from where he left off at Trent Bridge, Bell proved to be the fulcrum of England’s innings yet again. After Australia bossed around in the first session with three early strikes, it was Bell who steadied England’s ship. He stitched together two crucial partnerships — 99 runs with Trott for the fourth wicket and 144 runs with Jonny Bairstow for the fifth wicket — to bring England back into what could have been Australia’s day.
3. Jonny Bairstow gets lucky
Often criticized for his batting technique, or the lack of it, Jonny Bairstow stuck it out to help England on their revival path after Australia dug their teeth into England’s batting line-up early on. He gave Bell good company as the duo added 144 runs for the fifth wicket to not allow Australia to dominate. On the way to his 146-ball knock of 67, Bairstow was lucky to stay on despite being cleaned up by Peter Siddle.
Bairstow attempted to drive off a full-length delivery from Siddle and missed it completely. The ball knocked the stumtps back but to Siddle’s horror, the umpire checked with the TV replays for a front foot no-ball. As ill-luck would have it, Siddle had overstepped by the slightest margin that could ever exist and Bairstow survived.
4. Even-’Stevens’ on Day 1
At the half-way stage in the day, the early morning conditions — that suited swing bowling — began to wear out and the wicket was starting to get easier to bat on. Bell and Bairstow settled down and were in no mood to do their rivals any favours. The second and the third session belonged to the hosts until skipper Michael Clarke threw the ball to Steven Smith for the first time in the series. Smith bowled his leg-spin and got rid of Bell in his very first over. Not many, including Bell, would have expected Smith to turn the ball. A genuine leg break got the better of Bell as he edged it to Clarke at first slip after a well-made 109.
After doing well for most parts of his innings, Bairstow threw his wicket away to arguably the worst delivery of the day. It was a full toss, which Bairstow drove uppishly, only for Smith to take a good low catch on his follow through. Three overs later, Smith bowled a flipper marginally outside the off-stump to Matt Prior. Prior’s eyes lit up looking at the line but he failed to judge the type of delivery. He edged it and Haddin completed the formalities behind the stumps to send his opposite number packing. With this splendid spell of bowling, Smith nullified England’s effort in the second session and finished the day with the game perfectly in the balance.
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