Adelaide’s first transportable Test pitch, as far as batsmen were concerned, promised to be more check-in than drop-in. England, after fielding two spinners and losing an influential toss, had no option but to hang in there against an Australian side sensing the chance to build an unassailable lead. By the end of an engrossing first day, they had achieved their primary goal, but it was a close-run thing.
George Bailey’s perma smile was becoming broader by the minute in the final session after registering his first Test fifty and Michael Clarke, although playing well within himself, a captain bearing his duties seriously, possessed the sort of Adelaide batting record – an average of more than 100 – to bring trepidation. The second new ball was doing nothing.
Then Stuart Broad, with the admirably combative attitude of a bowler always willing to shake things up, fired in a bouncer and Graeme Swann pulled off a thrilling catch at square leg. Bailey, who had attacked the spinners, Monty Panesar in particular, with verve, departed for 53, the third Australian after Shane Watson and Chris Rogers to make a half-century but not take full advantage. This second Test is engrossingly poised.
England could have been relishing unexpected riches if they had not dropped three catches in the final session, the most criminal a simple miss at backward point when Brad Haddin, on 5, cut Panesar: the culprit, Michael Carberry, has been a strange mixture in the field of brilliance and fallibility in his brief England career.
There were other blemishes with the old ball, far tougher chances both. Panesar spilled a quick return catch from Bailey, on 10; Joe Root sprang to his right at short midwicket, with Clarke on 18, but a demanding chance off Swann went to ground.
For all that, England, thumped by 381 runs in the first Test at the Gabba had cause for satisfaction. After the intimidating atmosphere of Brisbane, the challenge in Adelaide was a markedly different one. Expectations of a sedate batting surface persuaded them 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. There was enough grip in the surface to justify the gamble. This pitch is strikingly dry and, even if it will not disintegrate, it will dust up. They will hope for dividends later in the match.
The new-look Adelaide Oval – 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. Somehow, in a Test that looked bound to be a long haul, they had to find a way to take 20 wickets. As showers strafed the ground in the morning, 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 they both have a wicket to their name.
Panesar, after a mediocre, not to say troubled season, did as much as could reasonably be expected. He bowled with a blustery wind coming over his left shoulder and, after a few short ones initially, produced an admirable holding operation in the afternoon. His post-tea spell was shoddy as Bailey met him adventurously, twice lofting him straight for six.
The middle session finished with England on a high they could barely have foreseen as Watson and Rogers fell in successive overs and Steve Smith succumbed to the last ball before tea, comprehensively bowled as Panesar straightened one; three wickets lost for 19 in 39 balls.
Rogers and Watson had ambitions on building something more unassailable. 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, Swann making one turn to have him caught at the wicket – the seventh time Swann’s offspin has dismissed him in as many Tests.
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 taking full toll after a promising start are innumerable.
England also made good use of a rain-disrupted morning – restricted to 14.2 overs as squally showers forced three stoppages – by dismissing David Warner, who had looked in the mood to strut his stuff before he self-destructed against Broad, toe-ending him to 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.
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.
Stokes was solid enough in his first day in Test cricket, but it was a difficult ask and Rogers, who had been cagey against the seamers, unsightly even against the spinners, was at his most confident against him as he brought his favourite square drive into play
This was a pitch which did not give its favours easily to the quicks, the sort of pitch upon which England have become attuned, the sort of pitch they might well have chosen upon which to try to get back into the series. 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
Australia 5 for 273 (Rogers 72, Bailey 53, Watson 51) v England