THE much-anticipated Ashes drama of 2013 kicked in early as 14 wickets fell on a manic and nervy first day of the Investec series at Trent Bridge.
England folded to 215 all out in little more than two sessions, principally to Peter Siddle, before Steven Finn was taking two in two in only the fourth over of Australia’s reply.
Leaden skies meant the ball swung all day, after Alastair Cook had taken a necessary gamble on the elements when he chose to bat on a dry pitch expected to deteriorate
That decision appeared to have backfired as Siddle took five for 50 and the hosts were hustled out in 59 overs.
But thanks to Finn and James Anderson – who moved clear as England’s third-highest Test wicket-taker – in the worrying absence of Stuart Broad, the hosts returned fire to leave Australia on a vulnerable 75 for four at stumps.
A mixture of errant shots and increasingly skilful use of the awkward conditions made Siddle the scourge of England’s batsmen, despite half-century stands between Jonathan Trott and Joe Root and then Ian Bell and Jonny Bairstow.
Four wickets fell in the afternoon to Siddle; then in only seven more overs after tea, Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson made short work of the tail.
The mayhem continued in Australia’s innings, Ed Cowan and Michael Clarke both making ducks as the tourists lurched to 22 for three.
It all came after Australia did not start well with the ball this morning, Pattinson especially fragile and Starc also initially unable to test the England openers.
It took until the final delivery of the ninth over for Pattinson to make the lateral movement count, drawing Cook into the drive for a routine edge behind.
Siddle’s first four-over spell, replacing Pattinson, cost 27 runs – but when Clarke switched him to the Radcliffe Road end, the move was immediately successful. With his first ball, Siddle cut short Root’s first attempt as a Test opener – bowling him off-stump with a cunning, outswinging yorker.
After Kevin Pietersen pushed away from his body at Siddle and edged to second slip, England’s top-scorer Trott also had cause for regret when he aimed a crooked cover-drive and chopped on two short of his 50.
Trott’s departure left Bell and new batsman Bairstow together with just four runs between them. Bell had pulled the 13th ball he faced, from Siddle, for a commanding four but took until his 31st to muster a second scoring shot – another boundary, through straight midwicket and again off Australia’s most successful bowler.
There was an imbalance of fours, through attacking fields and over an unforgiving outfield and, despite England’s struggles, 32 boundaries by tea accounted for more than two-thirds of the total. Sadly for the hosts, batsman error then returned against Siddle. Bell edged some outswing to slip, and then Matt Prior’s adventurous instincts brought only a single before he crunched a catch to cover.
Broad reprised the Prior approach, and hit five fours in a stand of 33 with Bairstow, but he mistimed an attempted pull at Pattinson high back to the bowler, and Starc took two wickets in two balls as Bairstow aimed an on-drive but lost his off-stump and Finn was caught-behind driving for a golden duck.
Graeme Swann met the tamest of ends, propping a catch to cover off Pattinson (three for 69), as England’s last six wickets fell for 37 runs, and the final four for only two.
There was only the briefest of lulls, before Australia lost their first three wickets for as many runs in the space of 18 balls.
Shane Watson edged Finn low to third slip, where Root took a neat catch away to his left; then Cowan was out-of-sorts with a faulty drive next ball, again collected in the slips.
Clarke survived a fast, swinging hat-trick ball but had no answer when Anderson produced a beauty angled in from wide of the crease yet straightening off the pitch to beat the defence and hit the top of off-stump, moving him to 308 scalps, one more than Fred Trueman.
Steve Smith admirably kept England at bay, but would still lose Chris Rogers, lbw to Anderson from round the wicket, before the close.
England were therefore narrowly ahead, but it was an advantage perhaps offset, however, by the unavailability of frontline seamer Broad – unable to take the field or the new ball after being hit while batting on an already hurt right shoulder.
MAN OF THE DAY
Peter Siddle. Stunning figures of five for 50 from a man whose early form on tour had been a concern. Siddle accounted for four of England’s top five after recovering from a chastening first spell.
BALL OF THE DAY
James Anderson to Michael Clarke. The Australia captain survived Steven Finn’s beautiful hat-trick ball but was still undone for a duck by an Anderson special. Ducked in a touch in the air and nipped back off the pitch to clip the top of off stump. Perfection.
SHOT OF THE DAY
Late in a day of tumbling wickets, Australia’s Steven Smith takes a couple of steps down the track and hoists Graeme Swann for six back over his head.
SHOCK OF THE DAY
Jonathan Trott’s careless dart at Siddle to depart for 48. Renowned as one of the most mentally strong batsmen in world cricket, the Warwickshire man lost his shape when he went after a wide one and played on.
STAT OF THE DAY
198 runs were scored in boundaries out of 290 in the day, an unusually high proportion given the bowlers were so emphatically on top.
TWEET OF THE DAY
“I was proud to be able to present Ashton Agar his Baggy Green cap this morning. The 434th Australian Test Cricketer :) #goodluckmate” – Australia great Glenn McGrath after he was chosen to hand the surprise debutant his Test colours.