England won the toss this morning before the first day of the fourth Ashes 2009 test cricket match at Headingley, Leeds. It was to be the only thing that went right for the hosts, however, as they were bowled out in just over 33 overs for a total score of just 102.
Australia ended the day on 196 for 4, with the in form Michael Clarke still at the crease on an unbeaten 34 runs.
The day did not start well for England, as they lost their captain – perhaps the best with the bat for the team in the series to date – for just three runs as Andrew Strauss fished for a wide ball from Siddle which did a little off the pitch. He nicked it wide of North at third slip, but the fieldsman was more than equal taking a fine one-handed catch to his right.
Strauss will be kicking himself as this was a wide ball which he could – and should – have easily left.
Then followed Ravi Bopara soon after as he yet again failed to make any impression in this number three position. His technique does not stand up to great scrutiny, but his shot selection today was once again called into serious doubt as he, similar to Strauss, took a nibble at a wideish ball and was caught at gulley off the bowling of Hilfenhaus. Bopara had added one run to the total. The score, 16 for 2.
Ian Bell failed to find any rhythm in the forty or so minutes it took him to score just eight runs. He had a torrid time against Stuart Clark, who’s recall at the age of 33 as a fourth seamer seems an inspired decision. Mitchell Johnson seemed reinvigorated by the addition of Clark, too, as he worked Bell over in a way which must have worried England: this is the form Johnson brought to the Ashes which had been so conspicuously absent in the first three test matches.
Bell was eventually winkled out by Johnson, who deserved the wicket, as he gloved a vicious bouncing delivery to Brad Haddin’s welcoming gloves.
The score when Bell’s wicket fell was 39 for 3, and England must have been hoping for a large partnership to steady the ship. It was not to come, as Australia, and Stuart Clark in particular, really drove home their early advantage: Clark with a scintillating spell of 3 wickets for just 5 runs off 21 deliveries before lunch.
Clark first accounted for Collingwood (0) for a duck, caught by Ricky Ponting, with a straightish delivery which jagged a little off the seam, before taking the important wicket of opener Alistair Cook (30), the only man to have got any sort of start for England.
When Broad (3) followed these two into the pavillion, the England team must have been seriously worried: down to 6 wickets for just 72 runs, and with the wind in the Australian bowlers’ sails.
Lunch was called and England were all at sea, but after lunch, the hosts day was not going to improve: they lost the final four wickets to Siddle, who completed his Five-For accounting for Swann (0), Harmison (0), Anderson (3) and Onions (0) who were all caught (Clarke, Haddin, Haddin, Katich in that order) and left poor Mat Prior without a partner, top scoring on 37 not out.
The rout was complete. Australia had ten England batsmen caught out, without a single LBW or bail being removed in just over two and a half hours of cricket which saw England’s weak tail exposed by a reinvigorated Australian four-pronged pace attack.
Even without the subsequent Freddie-less England bowling proving well off the mark set by Australia, thoughts in the Headingley stands were turning to a deciding test match, which few could hold much hope for, at least based on the morning’s play.
That said, there were some signs for England fans to cling to, though these were few and far between.
Harmison was back, and struck early, despite some initial wobbles which saw a wide delivery down leg go for 4 byes early in his spell.
Shane Watson (51), for Australia, once again made a valuable contribution and proved his addition at the expense of Hughes was a sensible selection. This came, however, after Katich (0) gave Steve Harmison his first wicket of the series by giving a catch to fellow struggling batsmen Ravi Bopara.
Watson fell to a straight delivery from Onions, LBW, but not before Australia had passed the English total with ease, with Watson ably assisted by captain Ricky Ponting. The score was 133 for 2.
Australia added just 7 runs before Ponting (72) was walking, after a very close LBW call saw the Australian captain out from Broad. Hawkeye said the ball would have clipped leg stump – a decision which would probably be given “not out” the majority of times, but that seems to be Ponting’s luck this tour. He looked on his way to a captain’s century before this decision.
Michael Hussey (10) followed soon after Ponting, another Broad LBW. Hussey, the only Australian in the side who’s form seems to have deserted him more than just temporarily.
Clarke and North would remain at the crease until stumps on a day England will love to forget. These two must both be taken out early tomorrow if England are to retain any slim hope of getting a result in this match.
How England would love a repeat of last Saturday’s washout, though, on today’s evidence, England will need to lose more than one full day’s play to keep any hope of a draw alive in this test match. Stranger things have happened, but Australia look like the side who touched down in Spring once more, and, with another couple of days like this, will once again be rightful favourites to win the Ashes 2009.
England have their work cut out: remove the Australian batsmen, then don’t get out for more than a full day, on the Headingley pitch. It’s been done before, but perhaps not by a side with as flimsy a batting line-up as England have fielded this weekend.
Confidence will remain key, and Australia will look to keep the huge momentum today has put behind them.
For England, it may be time for a rain dance or two.