Magellan Ashes 2017-18
Australia hold firm on tense first day
Hosts lose four wickets having been sent in to bat on intriguing first day of second Test
Andrew Ramsey at Adelaide Oval
2 December 2017, 11:59 PM AEST
Day two session times (local): 1.30pm - 4pm | 4.20pm - 6.20 | 7pm - 9pm
If England captain Joe Root’s bold gamble to bowl first is to be deemed anything other than the miscalculation it initially appeared, he will owe a debt of thanks to his nation’s newest Test cricketer, Craig Overton.
Presented with his England cap shortly before Root made his controversial call, Overton waited patiently through a rain-plagued first session of the second Magellan Ashes Test before announcing himself by snaring the most prized scalp in Test cricket, Australia skipper Steve Smith.
Root had risked ridicule when he was seduced by the heavy cloud cover and the historic precedent of day-night Tests in Adelaide – both of which have been won by Australia when batting second – when his bowlers failed to deliver and then Smith again got himself set.
But Overton, the tall Somerset seamer who had impressed with his efforts in a pre-series tour game, changed England’s fortunes and possibly the course of the game when he became the first England bowler in this series to knock over Smith.
Albeit with a healthy helping of fortune, his maiden Test wicket coming when a quick delivery that seamed back into the world’s top-ranked Test batter then bounced from Smith’s front pad to the inside edge of his bat and then on to his stumps.
The vital breakthrough exposed Australia’s middle-order to a testing final hour or more under lights as well as cloud, but they will resume on Sunday at 4-209 and with a nominal advantage, with Peter Handscomb (36 not out) and Shaun Marsh (20 not out) to confront the second new ball.
After England had clearly fancied their chances of bowling them out, as they did so clinically (inside a session) in similar conditions at Trent Bridge in 2015.
There was a time, before floodlights were turned on in Test matches and cricket balls turned pink, that offering your opposition first use of an Adelaide Oval pitch was a sure sign of desperation if not tantamount to treason.
Prior to today, the most recent England captain to have risked it was Bob Willis in the summer of 1982-83 when he challenged his rival skipper Greg Chappell to bat first, and Chappell showed his gratitude by scoring 115 in his team’s 438 as Australia romped home by eight wickets.
But that was an era when Adelaide was a batter’s nirvana and Willis, a fast bowler by trade, clearly thought the only hope for a paceman lay in the first hour or two when there might have been a flicker of pulse before it flattened into a strip of tarmac.
With the introduction of day-night Test cricket two years ago, Adelaide Oval has been transformed into a seam bowler’s haven where the average first innings score in Tests has shrunk from 386 with a red ball to 230 using the pink version (admittedly employing a small sample of two matches).
Having put the onus on his quicks to get England back in the series, Root can’t have been impressed with what they served up in the opening hour that yielded 33 runs, a couple of rain breaks and not even the hint of a breakthrough.
It was as if the visitors believed that batting had become such a fraught craft on the coarse grass and against the lacquered ball that they simply had to propel it in the direction of the Australians and the results would flow.
However, James Anderson found little of his trademark swing and bowled fractionally short which allowed openers David Warner and Cameron Bancroft to leave more deliveries than they were compelled to play as they resumed where they had left off with their unbroken stand of the final day in Brisbane.
The murmur among the record crowd (for the redeveloped stadium) during the second wet weather intervention that arrived as a drizzle but stayed for an hour and half was that Root’s decision at the coin toss would displace Nasser Hussain’s identical ploy in Brisbane 15 years ago as the great modern Ashes howler.
Certainly if the attack that lacked venom and menace as they battled a stiff southerly wind couldn’t induce the ball to move off the straight, or the Australians to take some risks with their stroke play.
But that chat was quelled within minutes of play resuming, though not through any act of inspiration by England’s bowling attack.
Rather it was Warner’s decision to start out for a single when Moeen Ali fumbled a straightforward save at cover, then change his mind as he saw Chris Woakes swoop on the spillage from mid-off that brought the breakthrough England had hardly looked like achieving.
With Bancroft scurrying in rapid response as his new opening partner shaped to take a run, only to frantically about face and hurl himself at the crease line in a desperate bid to save his wicket, Woakes coolly took aim from almost side-on to the stumps and threw them down unerringly.
Given the flawless manner in which Australia’s first wicket pair had chased down 170 to secure victory at the Gabba and the absence of discomfort they showed upon resumption five days later, a run out loomed as the only realistic means by which they might be separated.
The stroke of luck lifted the mood of the tourists in the same way that the rain clouds slowly began to dissipate and snatches of afternoon sunlight shone through, and an hour after Bancroft’s removal they were rewarded with their first bowlers’ wicket when Warner fell.
If the vice-captain was remorseful at his part in the run-out, he was livid with himself when he aimed a half-defensive, quasi-punch shot at a delivery from Woakes he might have happily left alone if not within a boundary of reaching 50 and – with both feet off the ground - nicked a catch to keeper Jonny Bairstow.
The energy that England had found upon the first wicket then rose exponentially when Smith again came to the wicket with his team far from secure.
The Australia captain was immediately involved in a series of verbal skirmishes. Initially with Broad and then Anderson – who Smith had described a day earlier as one of the game’s foremost sledgers – and demonstrably rose to the bait.
As England’s pace pair charged in and chirped on, Smith returned serve with words of his own underscored with an even more extravagant array of body contortions, defiant calling and – when opponents got in his face – flailing arms.
The pressure that England strove so hard to apply looked to have found a fissure in Australia’s middle-order when Khawaja miscued a pull shot from a Woakes bouncer that sailed towards fine leg where Mark Stoneman needed to make 10-15 metres to take the catch.
Lumbering with shin guards he wore under his trousers lest he be called to a close-catching position at some stage in the future, Stoneman made the ground easily but made the chance look impossible by snatching with hard hands from which the ball bounced away to towards the boundary rope.
Khawaja was on 44 when gifted the reprieve and Australia uncomfortably poised at 2-109, and when the elegant left-hander celebrated his fortune by posting the game’s first half-century six overs later, the potential cost to England seemed immense.
But again it was a break in play that brought the breakthrough against type.
Four balls after the dinner interval, Khawaja aimed a languid drive at a delivery that Woakes pushed across him and squirted a sharp chance to James Vince at gully.
At that point, Australia’s innings stood on the edge at 3-139 with an extended session under the floodlights – when the ball is supposed to misbehave – and Smith standing as the figure who would decide if Root’s gamble would be judged as triumph or treason.
Australia XI: Warner, Bancroft, Khawaja, Smith (c), Handscomb, SMarsh, Paine (wk), Starc, Cummins, Hazlewood, Lyon #Ashes— cricket.com.au (@CricketAus) December 2, 2017
England XI: Cook, Stoneman, Vince, Root (c), Malan, Moeen, Bairstow (wk), Woakes, Overton, Broad, Anderson #Ashes— cricket.com.au (@CricketAus) December 2, 2017
2017-18 International Fixtures
Magellan Ashes Series
Australia Test squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird, Chadd Sayers.
England Test squad: Joe Root (c), James Anderson (vc), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Mason Crane, Tom Curran, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Chris Woakes.
First Test Australia won by 10 wickets. Scorecard
Second Test Adelaide Oval, December 2-6 (Day-Night). Tickets
Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Tickets
Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Tickets
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Tickets
Gillette ODI Series v England
First ODI MCG, January 14. Tickets
Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Tickets
Fifth ODI Perth Stadium, January 28. Tickets
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Tickets
Gillette T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Tickets
Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Tickets
Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Tickets
Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 14
Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21