At lunch, England were bowling along, having won the toss and elected to bat, with no wickets down for a handsome total of 126.
At tea, England had dropped two wickets, having lost Cook (95) and Bopara (18) but were still going along nicely on 255 for 2.
However, for the second Ashes 2009 test match in a row, the England middle order has capitulated, granting the Australian team an unlikely advantage on a benign wicket.
Andrew Strauss, with his captain’s century and Alistair Cook were the only batsmen of merit in an otherwise lacklustre innings despite a sound start.
In truth, Cook and Strauss could themselves have gone earlier – Cook edged a couple of early deliveries close to the slips in a relitively nervy start before settling in and picking his shots. Strauss, on the other hand, offered only a very hard caught and bowled chance to Nathan Hauritz which went down, dislocating the spinner’s finger in the process.
However, having ridden their luck early on, the opening partnership were in fine fettle when lunch was called.
It did not take long after lunch, however, for the Australian side to take their first wicket of this opening test, when Cook missed his attempted hit to leg on a ball which proved too straight from Johnson. He could have no argument when the umpires finger raised after the ball hit his pad square in front.
Bopara came in looking to play himself into the number three position with questioning voices about his aptitude for the role growing. He played a delicious cover drive for four before being caught out as Hilfenhaus followed three outswingers with one that came back – the ball would have hit middle stump 6 inches from the top, had it not hit Bopara’s front pad half a stride from the crease: LBW.
Then up stepped Kevin Pietersen to play a strange innings to take 22 runs in 33 balls before tea while failing to time many shots well and offering more than a few half-chances to the Australian field. It did not look like he would last long after tea, and so it would prove when he added just 10 more runs before nicking a standard Siddle delivery to Brad Haddin – his final tally? 32.
Pietersen would then be followed soon by the man of the moment Paul Collingwood who offered an uncharacteristically unnecessary slog to leg which he mistimed straight down Siddle’s throat off the bowling of Michael Clarke.
Collingwood had made 16 runs, exactly half that of England’s previous batsman, in a trend that would continue soon after when Prior was dismissed all too easily for just 8 runs playing all round a full delivery which swung a marginal amount from Johnson’s hand.
Andrew Flintoff would not follow his recent retirement plan with a good innings, instead he continued the “score half of the man before” England middle-order trend troubling the scorers with just 4 runs before fishing outside off stump and getting picked off by the Hilfenhaus / Ponting combination.
Broad then bucked this trend by defending manfully to end the day not out on 8. Strauss finished the day with his score on an important 161.
The Australians will end the day delighted that, after tea, they managed to take four cheap wickets on a wicket that offered them very little in the earlier part of the day.
Without ever really excelling with the ball, England’s middle-order self-destruction has put the tourists firmly in the driving seat of this Ashes test number two at Lord’s. This match could well follow the trend set in the first test at Cardiff given this wicket, and the Australian’s formidable batting lineup, who are in plenty of form at present.
England, on the evidence of today, will have to work very hard to escape this match with a draw or better this time around – and, indeed, in the three tests to follow – unless their performance with the bat in the middle and lower order improves markedly.
The balance of this test swung Australia’s way after tea, despite a promising start by England, who now need Andrew Strauss to find himself a partner who can put on at least a session and a half tomorrow with him if they are to get what they should from this flat wicket. It is difficult to see anyone other than Cardiff’s hero James Anderson – and a healthy dose of luck – who might fit that bill.
The most likely course of events tomorrow, however, would seem to be England all out by lunch for around 400-430 followed by a difficult time in the field trying to winkle out Australian craftsmen on a batting track.