On a day, and a pitch, custom-made for the no-fuss, just-as-few flourishes kind of cricketer, Chris Rogers – the quintessence of that character – fell despairingly short of a deserved Ashes century as Australia and England continued to arm wrestle for control of the opening Test.
Rogers, who has foreshadowed his plans to quit Test cricket at the end of this series and was almost forced into premature retirement by a serious dose of concussion a month ago, also added a notable entry to his lengthy career CV by striking the one and only six of his dwindling international career.
But he also found himself in frustratingly familiar territory when he was dismissed for 95, which represented the seventh consecutive Test innings in which he’s reached 50 yet failed to push on to a hundred and beyond.
Extended highlights of day two of the first Test
Notwithstanding his demonstrable disappointment when he attempted to cut a ball that offered him insufficient width, Rogers could reflect contentedly on his innings given that the only other batsman to have scored more prolifically on a thankless surface was England’s stand-out player Joe Root.
At the close of a day in which England’s last three wickets added more than Australia hoped (almost 100 from 14 overs this morning) and whose bowlers pressed late to prise out half the requisite opposition wickets by finding the patience and control that the visiting bowlers were too regularly unable to muster.
Australia opener Chris Rogers passed fifty for the seventh time in a row in the first innings against England at Cardiff (Australia only video)
Guilty of being too anxious to hunt for wickets with the ball, Australia – with the notable exception of Rogers – fell victim to the same ploy with the bat as all of the top five wickets to drop perished to attacking shots as they tried to force the pace against measured, often meticulous bowling.
It has ensured England finished day two of the 2015 Ashes holding a slight but strategic advantage, and Australia to resume on what shapes as another fine morning tomorrow 166 runs in deficit with Shane Watson (29no) singly responsible for shepherding the lower order as close as possible to England’s 430.
But any advantage in a match where the balance of power has lurched from one side to the other rather than – in keeping with a pitch as flat, lifeless and tepid as a Welsh pub ale – swinging violently, seems destined to be fleeting.
Certainly it listed England’s way in the opening hour today when the wayward bowling that hobbled Australia’s progress on the opening day reappeared sporadically which enabled England to not only steal an invaluable 87 runs but do so at the clip needed with grim weather forecast for day five.
All-rounder Moeen Ali, whose batting credentials suggest he is being short-changed filling number eight in the order, was the most productive and targeted the regular supply of short or wide – sometimes both – deliveries that sat up asking to be hit, an invitation he duly accepted.
His task was made simpler by the absence of the dense overhead cloud that had been a fixture of the first three days of Australia’s stay in Cardiff, and under which the ball was prone to move pronouncedly in the air off though rarely off the surface.
He was the penultimate batsman dismissed, smartly snared at slip having scored 77 from 88 balls with 50 of those coming from shots to or over the boundary, when he became one of Mitchell Starc’s two wickets for the morning that saw him finish with a five-wicket bag.
Mitchell Starc claimed five wickets in the first Ashes Test against England in Cardiff, watch them all again here (Australia only video)
At one stage prior to play resuming, it seemed doubtful that Starc would be able to take his place on the field having suffered an ankle problem late on day one.
He was not among the four seamers (including Watson) who warmed up as a group and took turns in bowling practice balls on a spare pitch half an hour before the resumption.
But he took his place and was soon into the attack to replace Josh Hazlewood at the River Taff End, before switched to to whetre Mitchell Johnson had returned the least impressive innings figures (0-111 from 25 overs) of his Test career.
Mitch Johnson has some fun with England fans // Getty Images
While Starc’s third five-for in his 17 and a half Tests was punctuated more by flashes of unplayability than through sustained pressure, his availability for the second Test at Lord’s that follows just three days after leaving Cardiff will be crucial now that injury has sent Ryan Harris into retirement.
And if Moeen’s contribution with the bat was valuable, then his efforts later in the day with the ball may yet prove decisive as this five-Test series plays out.
As the England batsmen telegraphed with Australia’s spinner Nathan Lyon, so too did the visiting team set their sights on Moeen’s less-than-threatening off-breaks having found the control and consistency of James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Mark Wood tough to get away.
But after Anderson made the initial incision soon after lunch when he won the war of patience with David Warner, who had been as unusually circumspect in scoring 17 in more than an hour as he had been uncharacteristically quiet in the field, it was Moeen who buoyed England’s spirits.
Both teams have been able to fashion a run rate of around four an over throughout the first two days in spite of the dry track, but that number tended to shrink when England’s three front-line seamers were operating under full sun.
So Steve Smith made it his business to go after the spinner, clubbing him for three boundaries in the space of four balls in Moeen’s fourth over before being quickly reined in, which ultimately cost him his wicket.
Looking to take the game to England, Smith charged at Moeen who, sensing his movement, fired a faster, flatter delivery at his pads forcing the world’s top-ranked Test batsman to thrust his front leg at the ball, jab at it with his bat and loop a catch to short mid-on from the resultant leading edge.
Steve Smith is dismissed after a shrewd field placing from England captain Alastair Cook and Moeen Ali catches him out (Australia only video)
It was another ill-judged trip down the pitch that accounted for Michael Clarke (38) an hour and half later when the Australia skipper seemed to find himself too close to the pitch of the ball and slapped it shoulder high back at the bowler who cleanly plucked the sharp catch to his right.
Clarke had not looked altogether comfortable during his 52-ball stay, taking some time to get his feet moving and sparring speculatively a number of times to deliveries that every now and then jagged about from the indentations that have formed on the surface.
But as ever he rode out the uncertainty while Rogers filled the unlikely role as the freer-scoring partner that included a top-edged hook from a Broad bouncer that narrowly cleared Moeen’s outstretched fingers on the fine leg rope to add an unlikely epilogue to his career highlights reel.
When they fell within 10 overs of each other in the final session and Voges surrendered his hands in the shadows of stumps with a limp bunt to short cover, it ensured Watson will need to stand tall with the Brad Haddin and the bowlers to push his team closer to parity on day three.
England captain Alastair Cook was forced from the field on day two in Cardiff, after being hit in the groin by a Steve Smith edge
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