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Thursday, July 09, 2015

Ashes 2015 begin with Root, Ballance and Stokes leading England fightback

England 7/343 (88ov, Root 134/166b/17x4, Ballance 61/149b/8x4, Stokes 52/78b/2x6 6x4, Starc 3/84, Hazlewood 3/70) v Australia T1/5 D1/5 at Cardiff. Toss: England.

Once play got under way, after a brief drizzle and a lengthy opening ceremony strongly padded with Welsh windbaggery, England initially faltered to 3/46, then Joe Root, dropped before he'd scored, led a counterattack which, despite Australia's bowling regrouping later in the day, left his team with the better of the day's play.

Not much better perhaps, but enough to keep the spotlight on the successes of Root, Gary Ballance and Ben Stokes as well as on Brad Haddin's failure to catch Root - a little more than a regulation catch yet considerably less than a difficult one. This allowed Alistair Cook's modest and Ian Bell's poor efforts with the bat to avoid much scrutiny.

Root deserves abundant praise for his innings, not just its total but also its quality. His driving along the ground was as crisp and well timed as I've seen for a long time: worth stating awake to watch (pity Channel 9 aren't showing Foxtel - or any- type highlights at a more congenial hour).

Australia's attack was a mixed bag. Mitchell Starc was at times brilliant, at other times all over the place; Mitchell Johnson was out of sorts; Josh Hazlewood was steady with occasional nip (as when he had Adam Lyth sharply caught in the gully); while Nathan Lyon, after being brought on early and dismissing Cook ( a good catch by Haddin) didn't do much thereafter.

From my armchair the two Mitchells looked inaccurate, too often bowling wide of the off stump mark. Glenn McGrath on the radio cut Johnson some slack, on the grounds that the Cardiff pitch didn't suit him. I'll defer to the great man's opinion though would be less confident about the accuracy of his prediction that (unspecified) pitches later in the series will be more to MJ's liking. If they haven't already done so after hearing this England officials will be issuing instructions to the pitch preparation people at each of the other four Test venues.

 The pitch looks OK by UK Test standards for the moment, but could be trickier later in the Test. Australia will, unless they collapse abysmally in their first innings, have last use of it,which should motivate everyone in the eleven to think about how they can improve on their D1 performance and at least keep in touch with England (read as first innings lead) when they bat.

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