Melbourne: Belatedly, England drew Australian blood at the MCG. The claret was literal in the case of Chris Rogers, stunned by a blow to the side of the helmet from Stuart Broad, and figurative for all Australia’s batsmen, who demonstrated familiar frailty as they batted second for the first time in the four Tests and lurched to 9 for 164, still 91 behind, at the close.
The tourists’ success in cornering Australia intrigued a crowd of 78, 346, who were earlier thrilled by another burst of terrifying pace from Mitchell Johnson. His incisions have usually been followed by staunch batting, but on the sort of hard-fought day not glimpsed since the very first day of the series in Brisbane, Australia faltered in a manner to warm the hearts of the South Africa team due to host them in February and March, while also leaving the selectors with a few inconvenient worries that cannot be obscured by the glow of Ashes success.
Rogers was a lonely beacon of defiance for much of the day, his 61 occupying 222 minutes and absorbing the aforementioned blow to the head. The early wickets of David Warner and Shane Watson, each man out trying to force the pace, had a constricting effect on Australia, and it was not until Brad Haddin intervened with his familiar mix of bold strokes and good fortune that runs flowed with any sort of freedom.
Wickets did too, however, as James Anderson and Broad enjoyed a new flowering of their prolific pace-bowling partnership, taking advantage of a slow pitch that offered up tricky variations in pace and bounce and rendered driving particularly risky.
Warner had fallen to a presumptuous pull shot at Anderson and Watson edged an attempted drive off Ben Stokes to leave the hosts in wobbly territory. Runs were hard to come by while the odd ball did not bounce as expected. One such delivery from Broad clattered into the side of Rogers’ helmet after not rising above his evasive action, causing a delay as the shaken batsman’s cut face was treated by medical staff.
Soon afterwards, Michael Clarke shouldered arms to Anderson and had his off stump knocked back. Steven Smith resisted for a time before skewering a slips catch held well at an awkward height by Ian Bell and Rogers’ rearguard was ended when he finally lost patience and spooned a lofted drive attempt into the ring field on the off side.
George Bailey continued a series that veers from the handy to the indifferent, given out on DRS review for what Real-Time Snicko suggested to be a thin edge. Johnson was dropped by Anderson at cover then held by him at midwicket, before Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle were each caught in front of the wicket as the shadows grew long. Haddin will require a spectacular batting shift from the No. 11, Nathan Lyon, to get Australia close.
Such thoughts had seemed outlandish in the morning while Johnson tormented England’s lower order in what has become a familiar and grisly ritual to round them up for another mediocre first-innings total. Starting off with two wickets in his first over, including that of a panicked Kevin Pietersen, Johnson then crashed through Broad for figures of 5 for 63, all those wickets taken at a cost of 18 runs in nine overs after Clarke handed him the second new ball with England a relatively well-placed 4 for 201 late on Boxing Day.
Pietersen had slapped the first ball of the morning from Harris to the boundary over point, suggesting entertainment was in the offing. Johnson had other ideas however, and his first delivery lifted sharply on a hapless Tim Bresnan, looping off the shoulder of a bat raised in self preservation and being well held by Bailey running back from square leg.
After Broad took a leg bye, Johnson went after Pietersen, who seemed intent on destruction one way or another. A short ball had him pulling out of a swing to leg at the last minute, before a fuller, faster delivery, perhaps with a hint of inswing, rushed through Pietersen’s brazen attempt to mow over midwicket. Two wickets in the over had the MCG in morning tumult.
Broad took two boundaries from Harris’ next over, a flirty outside edge and a more assured glide through the covers, before the same bowler dropped a difficult return chance from a leading edge, having made excellent ground to reach it. Johnson then intervened once more, pinning Broad lbw with a yorker that struck the same foot he had badly bruised with another lbw verdict in Perth. Broad’s consideration of a review brought mirth but little else.
Anderson and Monty Panesar then held up the Australians briefly, the latter’s determination putting some of his better batting counterparts to some shame. He was struck an eye-watering blow to the groin by Siddle before being bowled by Lyon when offering no shot. Australia had wrapped up the innings in less than an hour, but their batsmen would not find the going to be anywhere near as easy.
Australia 9 for 164 (Rogers 61, Broad 3-30) trail England 255 (Pietersen 71, Johnson 5-63) by 91 runs