First day at the Oval, a good toss to lose

When Alastair Cook won the toss this morning and told Michael Clarke his team would be batting first, few would have raised an eyebrow. Even Michael Clarke might have been tempted to have a bowl, if at the very least just to divert the attention away from the Aussie top order for a bit longer. England went into the game with an unchanged eleven, with James Anderson being rested and Adil Rashid not being picked. The decision not to grant Yorkshire’s highly rated leg spinner his test debut was the talking point of their selection, as he will now have to make his first appearance leading the attack in the UAE. That said, England are fully focused on making it 4-1, and that is commendable.

Anyone following this year’s ashes might well have expected England to be batting by lunch, but the first session must go down as Australia’s. A change in outlook meant some slow, traditional test match cricket. Australia looked to leave Stuart Broad, after their research into his series pitch maps revealed that only 11% of his deliveries would actually hit the stumps. While at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge the tourists were rather slow on the up take, they adapted well and put their egos to one side here. England’s openers beat the bat occasionally, but that’s all they did. Fortune favours the brave, but it rarely favours the stupid. Perhaps the Aussies’ decision to change their outlook was a brave move. It was certainly a good one, as they reached 82-0 at lunch. Rogers has looked composed all series, while Warner hasn’t been as out of form as some of his team mates. That said, the two battled very well, and would have had to dig deep to banish the demons of the last two matches.

After lunch the tourists looked to continue their good work, but England didn’t have to wait too long to get their breakthrough. Wood had Rogers caught by Cook at first slip off a back of a length delivery, leaving the score on 110-1. Steve Smith walked out in rather different circumstances to the last few occasions, and knuckled down. Memories of Lord’s began to surface, as Smith began to make batting look a bit easier than one might expect with his unusual technique. Warner began to pick up the pace, and was looking well and truly set for an ashes hundred before he prodded forward to a stock delivery from Moeen Ali. Without turning it sideways, but landing it in the right area nonetheless, Ali had Australia’s new vice captain caught at first slip. Warner dragged himself from the field, after a petulant slash through the air with his bat.

A guard of honour was formed for Michael Clarke as he walked onto the field, possibly for the last time. Whether or not England would have done the same had the score been 20-2, and not 161-2 is something one can only guess at. That said, Clarke might not bat again in test cricket, and England’s gesture was a nice touch. The Aussie skipper came out and tried to play positively, as he sought to ‘express his way back into form’.

Clarke didn’t last particularly long, and departed the scene for just 15. A thin edge through to Buttler was confirmed by Sniko, and Australia were 3 down. It was all Aussie from there on in though. Smith passed 50 and Voges continued where he left off at Trent Bridge, reaching 47* at the close of play. Smith had contributed 78 to his side’s 285-3, as Australia won their first day since Lord’s. A flatter pitch and some more sensible batting are the obvious reasons for this sudden upturn in fortune. England certainly didn’t bowl badly, with Broad and Finn in particular sticking to their guns quite well. Should the tourists continue on in this way, they’ll set themselves up well, However, if England can keep them under 400 they will fancy their chances still.

Having inserted the opposition, Cook might be regretting his decision slightly. That said, few would have questioned it without the benefit of hindsight, and who can blame the skipper for not having that at 10:45 this morning?

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