It may have been Sydney in January but it could just as easily have been Old Trafford in May as the 5th Test started under grey skies and increasingly frequent showers. Michael Clarke’s first move as captain was a bold one after opting to bat despite the overhead conditions and a damp and green pitch. After that it was old school attritional test cricket as Australia’s batsmen endeavoured to perform better than they had in similar bowler friendly conditions on Boxing Day in Melbourne. On that score, they succeeded but wickets at crucial times ensured that the honours just about went to England by the time rain brought a premature end to proceedings.
Out for lunch
Phillip Hughes has looked a batsman at war with his technical deficiencies since he came into the side at Perth. Today he battled hard in the difficult conditions and having seen off tricky opening spells from James Anderson and Chris Tremlett, he celebrated with consecutive boundaries off Tim Bresnan. But with lunch just three balls away, Hughes wafted at one outside off-stump from Tremlett and was caught by Paul Collingwood at third slip. Hughes still doesn’t look like a test match opener to us, but at least his scores in the series are going in the right direction: 2,12, 16, 23 and now 31.
David Gower famously pulled his first ball in Test cricket to the boundary and his fellow left-hander Usman Khawaja was similarly nerveless and composed in his first Test innings. He clipped two through the leg-side first ball before pulling his second to the boundary as he raced to 15 from his first eight balls. Things became less frenetic after that and Khawaja looked settled and well organised at the crease. He deserved better fortune than top-edging a sweep off Swann (striking again in the first over of a spell) to square leg the ball before rain stopped play for the day. Rotten luck but Khawaja confirmed that he has a bright future at the highest level.
Watson’s losing hand
Shane Watson may have been a team-mate of his at Rajasthan Royals and Hampshire, but we doubt whether he will follow Shane Warne to the poker table where an ability to stay expressionless is paramount. Watson isn’t one to hide his disappointment behind a poker face when he is out and today we got the full repertoire. First, there was the cry of “oh no!” as he got an edge to one that shaped away slightly from Bresnan. Then there was a gesture with the right arm as the realisation that he had been dismissed sunk in, before finally the slow slouch off the ground. Watson had been particularly watchful in a morning session that saw him reach just 19 off 85 balls, but for the sixth time in the series he fell between 34 and 62 (and the 11th time in 14 innings against England) – another losing hand in terms of what is required from a test opener.
Player of the day
Chris Tremlett, who just takes the honours ahead of Khawaja, has been a revelation since coming in at Perth for his first Test in over three years. Once again, he was the pick of England’s bowlers and had all the Australian batsman in trouble with his accuracy, bounce and movement. He may have only had the wicket of Hughes to show for it, but it was the 6’8″ paceman that once again stood head and shoulders above the rest on day one.
Zero of the day
Michael Clarke‘s first move as Australia’s 43rd Test captain was a brave one in opting to bat and a positive drive for three from his first ball suggested that this positivity was going to be transferred to his batting. But after that he went back into the shell in which he has habitually resided in the series, until he hit an erroneous cut to Anderson in the gully to depart for just 4. It certainly wasn’t the example to set young Khawaja at the other end on debut. That’s just 152 runs at 19 now in the series for the out of sorts Clarke.
What happens next?
The pitch will probably flatten out on day 2, so the partnership between Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin will be crucial for Australia in setting a decent 1st innings total. England will be hoping for more overcast conditions and a similarly miserly approach from their bowlers to bowl Australia out for less than 250. Weather permitting, it should be fascinating.
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