LONDON // England may have revelled in their act of escapology at Cardiff on Sunday but they were not quite so comfortable when presented with the opportunity to put Australia in a vice-like grip at Lord's yesterday. Cruising at 221 for one just after lunch and sensing a repeat display of the 407 they racked up against Australia at Edgbaston in 2005, England lost five wickets either side of tea to leave honours just about even at the end of another compelling day's play of an Ashes Test match in England. Inspired by a brilliant 161 not out from Andrew Strauss, England ended the day on 364 for six but it should have been more, so much more.
The match had been overshadowed by Andrew Flintoff's decision to retire from Tests at the end of the series and for so long yesterday, England played with the kind of positive intent that has become Flintoff's modus operandi. But by the time Flintoff strode to the crease to a standing ovation - the reception was more subdued when he returned to the pavilion 10 balls later for just four - with five wickets down, England lost all momentum created by a 196-run stand between Strauss and Alastair Cook that broke an 83-year-old record for a first-wicket partnership against Australia at Lord's.
Cook shed his tag as an accumulator to reach his 20th Test half-century in just 73 balls, pulling and flicking the ball off his legs with real aplomb before falling five short of a deserved century. Strauss successfully converted his 15th Test fifty to his 18th Test hundred and will be eyeing a double century when he resumes this morning. It was an archetypal captain's innings from Strauss who cut and swept with purpose.
Strauss and Cook gorged themselves on some wayward bowling from the tourists. Mitchell Johnson was the chief culprit and he looks the player most under threat should Brett Lee be passed fit for Edgbaston. Ponting has had no qualms about leaving out Stuart Clark, the world's fourth best bowler, according to the ICC Test rankings, and may have to make a similarly brave call if Johnson, ranked one place above Clark, continues to bowl with the same absence of control and potency as he did yesterday. The left-armer looks a shadow of the player who bowled with venom in back-to-back series with South Africa earlier this year that he broke Graeme Smith's hand twice.
Johnson recovered from the ignominy of being hauled out of the attack after just four overs and conceding 47 runs in his first seven overs to claim the wicket of Cook with a rare straight ball - his 100th Test wicket in his 23rd match. Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath reached the century in the same number of Tests but Johnson will need to iron out a few technical issues and learn to master the nuances of the Duke ball - something he showed signs of doing when he swung one back brilliantly to bowl Matt Prior - if he is to even come close to matching the feats of those two Australian greats.
How Ponting must have craved someone with the accuracy of Warne or McGrath as his misfiring attack leaked runs all day. Ponting turned to off-spinner Nathan Hauritz after just 23 overs in a bid to gain a semblance of control yet probably knew it was going to be one of those days when Hauritz was taken to hospital with a dislocated finger shortly after shelling a firm drive from Strauss just after lunch. The untidy performance behind the stumps of Brad Haddin would also have done little for the confidence of the bowlers.
Ben Hilfenhaus was the pick of the attack for the second successive Test. He showed his skill when he trapped Ravi Bopara lbw for 18 with a sucker-punch of an inswinger. He came agonisingly close to claiming the prize wicket of Pietersen for the second innings in succession with a surprise bouncer but Pietersen's mis-cued pull fell safe. Pietersen's reprieve was a brief one - his chronic lack of footwork early in his innings was exposed this time by Peter Siddle when on 32 - while Hilfenhaus also exposed the ponderous movement of Flintoff, England's other marquee player.