By Ian Ransom
A disciplined England attack shrugged off the challenge of a bland Adelaide Oval wicket to limit Australia to 273-5 and leave the second Ashes Test delicately poised after the opening day on Thursday.
Trailing 1-0 in the five-Test series, England could do little about the coin-toss, but will rue some poor fielding late in the day, with three dropped catches letting Australia off the hook.
The third, a regulation chance spilled by two-Test opener Michael Carberry at backward point, spared Brad Haddin in the third-last over and the wicketkeeper survived to stumps on seven not out with Australia captain Michael Clarke on 48.
“I think it’s a fairly even day,” spinner Graeme Swann, who took a sharp catch at backward square leg to remove George Bailey on 53, told reporters.
“Having lost the toss at Adelaide you always fear the worst as a bowler but I think five wickets in a day is a pretty good return.
“Obviously six or seven would have been a lot better. We missed a couple of half-chances that we’ll rue but if we turn up in the morning and take a couple of quick wickets, it could all quickly be forgotten.”
Blessed to bat first on a gentle Adelaide Oval wicket, Australia failed to cash in with four of their five batsmen throwing away their wickets after making promising starts.
In the final hour’s play, Bailey was the third to score a half-century, his maiden in his second Test, but will regret flashing at a Stuart Broad delivery that ended up in a leaping Swann’s sure hands.
Like Chris Rogers (72) and Shane Watson (51) before him, the one-day specialist Bailey was on top of the England bowlers and had carted recalled spinner Monty Panesar for two sixes over his head and Broad for a third over the square boundary.
The England selectors’ decision to pick a second spinner was validated as Swann and Panesar gleaned some encouraging turn from a flat deck that offered little for seamers Broad and James Anderson.
Captain Alastair Cook may rue the loss of a second straight toss with the wicket likely to break up later in the match, however.
He would certainly have bemoaned the dropped catches that would have seen both Clarke and Bailey trudge back to the dressing room and expose Australia’s tail.
Panesar spilled a knee-high chance off his own bowling in the seventh over after lunch, granting Bailey a life on 10.
Clarke was then dropped on 18, with a diving Joe Root unable to bring down a flick to mid-wicket from the Australian captain off Swann.
England’s task could have been yet steeper, however, with Australia having cruised to 155-1 midway through the second session before Watson maintained his habit of failing to convert starts by spooning a catch back to bowler Anderson.
That ended a 121-run partnership with Rogers and sparked a collapse as Australia lost three wickets for 19 runs before stumbling to 174-4 at tea.
Rogers was caught behind by Matt Prior for 72 off his Ashes nemesis Swann the over after Watson’s departure and Panesar bowled all-rounder Steven Smith for six.
The quick wickets breathed life into a meandering contest which started with three rain interruptions which cut an hour’s play in the morning at the re-developing stadium.
Opener David Warner was also culpable for an unnecessary dismissal, giving up a simple catch to Carberry at point for 29 in the morning.
“The pitch is hard to judge,” Rogers told reporters.
“We probably expected at one stage 500-plus (as a par score) but the way it started to play tricks and even spun toward the back end of the day, I think if we can get 400 then we’ll be right in the game and probably have enough runs to create enough chances.”
New Zealand-born all-rounder Ben Stokes was handed his first test cap by former England captain Andrew Strauss before the toss, and finished with 0-26 off his eight overs.
Root has been moved up the order to replace Jonathan Trott at number three after the South Africa-born batsman left the tour this week to deal with a stress-related illness.