England may have underestimated Australia at their peril - for all their troubles in the build-up to the tour, Australia put in a spirited effort in the first Ashes Test at Trent Bridge, which England eventually won by 14 runs.
A nail-biting fifth day came to an end through a controversial Jimmy Anderson wicket, but there was precious little between the two sides throughout.
Andy Flower vs Darren Lehmann
England’s Andy Flower had a tough call prior to the game whether to stick with Tim Bresnan in attack, and eventually opted to drop the Yorkshireman in favour of Steven Finn. Finn started well with two early wickets in the first innings but seemed to fizzle out towards the end. On the bright side, Finn bowled economically, and Bresnan may have fared little better having struggled of late in an England shirt.
In the Australian fan base, eyebrows were raised by Darren Lehmann’s decision to bring Ashton Agar in at number eleven. In spite of his youth, the 19-year-old stunned the watching world with a quick-fire 98, and Lehmann quickly rectified this by moving him up the order for the second innings. Agar didn’t repeat his heroics, only scoring 14 the second time around, but can’t have done his chances of starting the second test any harm. Lehmann faced an uphill struggle after England won the toss and chose to bat, but managed to keep the Aussies’ heads up and almost produce a remarkable turn-around.
The weather meant the pitch was hit-and-miss for batting, and so it proved to be the bowlers that made the difference. Jimmy Anderson was in fantastic form heading into the series, and turned in a man-of-the-match performance for England, claiming ten wickets. The ever-reliable Graeme Swann was also typically consistent for England,
Shane Watson, although mainly a batsman, did not take any wickets, but held a good economy, while Peter Siddle tore through England’s top order. James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc were also a constant threat, while rising star Ashton Agar chipped in with two wickets in the second innings.
Having chosen to bat first, England’s opening batsmen Alastair Cook and Joe Root looked nervy at first. It was a brave decision to open the test with Root considering his youth, but his calm temperament was an asset. After Cook’s departure, Jon Trott batted sensibly, just missing out on a half-century with 48. Watching Trott’s steady style can sometimes feel like a hark back to the days of Geoffrey Boycott, but perhaps uncharacteristically he picked up the pace a little for England. Despite his difficulties against left-armers in the warm-up game against Essex, it was again the right arm of Siddle that eventually clean bowled him. Root and Trott contributed little in the second innings, though captain Cook started the team off well with a slow 50.
There were few highlights in the first innings for Australia’s top order, but Watson and Chris Rogers both frustrated England extremely well the second time around.
England’s decision to start with Johnny Bairstow was greeted by some surprise, but he proved a shining light in an otherwise drab middle order in the first innings. Matt Prior and Kevin Pietersen amassed a collective total of just fifteen, both succumbing to the bowling genius of Peter Siddle. In the second innings, however, Ian Bell stole the show with a hard-fought 109, while Pietersen and Stuart Broad reached 64 and 65 respectively.
Australia will be in a hurry to forget the first innings, where they lost five wickets for nine runs, only to be rescued by their tail-end. Lehmann warned England before the Test of the dangers of underestimating their tail-end, and so it proved as the home side toiled in the heat. Wicket-keeper Brad Haddin excelled in the second innings, reaching an admirable 71 to keep the Aussies in it right to the death.
Captains: Alastair Cook vs Michael Clarke
The pressure of captaincy seemed to have got to Cook in his batting on the first day. The Essex man lacked confidence instructing his bowlers and placing the field, and failed to change the system as England struggled against a stubborn tail-end. Cook persisted with his team’s tactics of bowling short, and it could have proved costly.
Michael Clarke faced the opposite problem entirely, as the Aussie skipper seemed too eager to change bowlers, and their attack lacked rhythm at first. Clarke evidently struggled with the Decision Review System, making several unnecessary calls – ultimately, Australia needed a review for Haddin’s controversial wicket, caught behind, that sealed the test.
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