Cricket

Ashes 2017: David Warner ton lights up opening day of Melbourne Test but England bowling continues to lack sting

When Australia won the toss and elected to bat first on a very good looking surface, England and their supporters would have feared the worst. A wicketless first and third session and a David Warner hundred only compounded those concerns. Steve Smith still batting at the close of play means expectations will be of another defeat.

The Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) is the venue where Warner has his worst returns of any Australian Test venue. Going into this Test, he had 362 runs at an average of 36.2 from his six Tests at his home ground, with just one hundred and one fifty. Compare that with the WACA where he has 825 runs from six matches with an average of 82.5.

Australia's David Warner celebrates his century in Melbourne on Tuesday. Reuters

Australia's David Warner celebrates his century in Melbourne on Tuesday. Reuters

That one hundred came last year against Pakistan, and now Warner has made it two Boxing Day Test hundreds in succession. It seems he has finally cracked making runs at the MCG, and he won’t have many more trouble-free centuries than this one. A browbeaten England had no answers on this flat, if a bit slow, drop-in pitch as they struggled in the first session.

A scoreline of 102/0 at lunch summed up the disparity between the two teams in that first session. That Warner was made to wait for his 21st Test hundred was something of a moral victory for England, and it was almost an actual one when England thought they had dismissed him on 99.

It was a very Warner way to get out, tucked up and attempting a pull shot, he top-edged the ball to mid-on off the bowling of Tom Curran. Unfortunately for the debudant, it was a no-ball and Warner reached his hundred off the very next ball.

England actually bowled a lot better after the break, making it very difficult for Australia to score. Warner didn’t last long after reaching his ton, dismissed for 103 when he feathered a catch behind off James Anderson. While bowling “dry” and hiding the ball from the batsmen might not be the prettiest or most exciting of tactics, its plausible to stop the runs if wickets are not coming. Between lunch and tea, we saw two wickets for 43 runs — that is one of the better bowling sessions England have had this series.

It was only Warner who batted with real freedom in the face of these English tactics, with Usman Khawaja finding it especially hard to get going, facing 65 balls for his 17. Cameron Bancroft didn’t find it any easier, making 26 from 95 balls. While scoring was hard, there was still very little wicket-taking threat from England’s bowlers, with only Anderson looking really good.

Understandably, given the resources that they have, England opted to make one enforced change from the chastening defeat in Perth. Out went the injured Craig Overton, and in came Curran.

They could have left out Stuart Broad who had gone 54 overs without taking a wicket when this Test got underway. The difficulty is that there just isn’t anyone else banging down the door for selection, so England decided that the better bet was giving Broad the chance to bowl one of those spells. That didn’t happen, but he did eventually claim a wicket after going 415 balls without one, and once he had got Khawaja to end the longest wicket drought of his career, he immediately looked more threatening.

The period of play after lunch was the way England should have been bowling when they have struggled to break partnerships throughout this series. Keep it tight, wait for mistakes, make Australia earn runs, not plunder them with ease.

England couldn’t keep that stranglehold in full effect, especially with Steve Smith at the crease. The final session brought 99 runs with no wickets. As has so often been the case in this series, and throughout the last two winters overseas, England have failed to back up a strong session. In the absence of anyone who is a consistent wicket-taking threat, and without a spinner who can keep things tight for you to allow the seamers some respite, it is just so hard for them to put themselves in match-defining positions.

Credit has to be given to the Australian batsmen, especially Warner, who seemed to be batting on a different pitch than everyone else. They showed patience to combat England’s tactics, with Smith marching relentless towards another Test hundred.

Things could have been a lot worse for England, and at 244 for three at the close things are actually pretty even in this game. But this has been the exact point in every match in this series so far when Australia’s middle and lower order has taken the game away from England. You suspect that is what will happen tomorrow.

Updated Date: December 26, 2017 16:41:26 IST

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