x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

England rue late losses

Peter Siddle tilted the opening Ashes Test back towards Australia as England closed out day one in Cardiff on 336 for seven.

Mitchell Johnson of Australia celebrates the wicket of Ravi Bopara as Kevin Pietersen looks on during the opening day's play in the first Ashes Test at the SWALEC Stadium in Cardiff, Wales.
Mitchell Johnson of Australia celebrates the wicket of Ravi Bopara as Kevin Pietersen looks on during the opening day's play in the first Ashes Test at the SWALEC Stadium in Cardiff, Wales.

Andrew Flintoff revived memories of his signature series in 2005 with his free-spirited batting in yesterday's evening session, before Peter Siddle tilted the opening Ashes Test back towards Australia. The returning all-rounder, Flintoff, who has suffered a string of injuries since his last Ashes outing, hit back after the tourists initially wrested control of a compelling opening day with the wicket of Kevin Pietersen.

Flintoff made a breezy 37 before becoming Siddle's first Ashes victim just before stumps. When the strapping Australia fast-bowler added the wicket of Matt Prior soon after, the pendulum had swung back towards Australia. Flintoff enjoyed much success four years ago in partnership with England's then wicket-keeper, Geraint Jones, and struck up a similar rapport with his successor, Prior. The Lancastrian all-rounder's jovial mood seemed to empower Prior, who outscored his senior partner, making 56 as England finished the day on 336 for seven.

Australia's early exit from last month's World Twenty20 met with much mirth in the UK, but the added time England spent playing the format cost them the crucial wicket of Pietersen. England's batting mainstay had re-adjusted to the rigours of the Test game well, guiding England back on course after a top-order totter. He reached 69, then suffered a lapse in concentration which brought about his downfall in the most ignominious fashion possible.

He top-edged an ugly, pre-meditated sweep from the off-spinner Nathan Hauritz onto his helmet and straight into the hands of Simon Katich at short leg. Pietersen was lampooned for falling to a similar shot in England's must-win Super Eight game against the West Indies in the World Twenty20 last month. What he was doing trying it in the longest version of the game when he was enjoying such success milking Australia's new-look attack, only he knows.

It undid all the good work he had done in concert with Paul Collingwood, who had fallen just previously for 64. Pietersen and Collingwood regularly combine well together. This was the eighth time they have shared a century partnership in Tests. They were undefeated throughout the afternoon session in Cardiff, as they added 128 for the fourth wicket, righting a ship that had been rocking at 90 for three after the fall of Ravi Bopara.

Shane Warne recently tempered the hyperbole surrounding Bopara, the England No 3 who earned rave reviews in the first half of this year with three consecutive centuries. The master leg-spinner believed his celebrants had been duped by the fact his run of success had come against an uninspiring West Indies bowling attack, suggesting he was not, in fact, an international standard player. It was a theory Ricky Ponting, the Australia captain, was evidently keen to pursue. As soon as the Essex batsman arrived at the wicket, following the departure of his county colleague Alastair Cook, Ponting was in his ear sowing the seeds of doubt.

Bopara is supposedly tough to faze but, if Ponting's banter missed the target, Siddle certainly did not, as he hit the youngster in the throat with a vicious bouncer from the second ball he faced. There was not much let-up. Soon after, Johnson hit Bopara on the head with a delivery that tipped the speed-gun to 92.6 mph, the fastest of the day. This was the real international cricket to which Warne was alluding, and just as Bopara was starting to bloom, he was deflowered by Johnson.

Johnson impressed on his first outing at Sophia Gardens, first bouncing out Andrew Strauss, England's captain before outfoxing Bopara. @Email:pradley@thenational.ae