JOE Root led the counter-attack as his and Gary Ballance’s unbroken century stand bailed England out on day one of the Ashes in Cardiff.
The Yorkshire pair joined forces at a perilous 43 for three, after Alastair Cook had chosen to bat first on a cloudy morning, but by tea had guided the hosts to a heartening 190 without further loss.
Root (134) was the driving force, having survived nervous initial moments against his former county team-mate Mitchell Starc, as conditions then began to ease under increasingly sunnier skies.
He was putting behind him a rare double failure in England’s last Test, on his home ground against New Zealand at Leeds, reprising a previous sequence of 11 half-centuries in 18 Test innings.
This time, on his return to the Ashes fray after being dropped for the final Test of England’s 5-0 trouncing in 2013-14, Root raced past his 50 in just 56 balls.
There was some good fortune for Root. He was dropped on nought second ball off Starc by diving wicketkeeper Brad Haddin, before he survived later scrapes against Nathan Lyon on 61 and 79 – a DRS lbw procedure marginally going his way and then a possible inside-edge on to pad looping to short-leg where Steve Smith ought to have held on.
Ballance (61), returning to form with his first half-century in any format for club or country since Grenada in April, operated in Root’s slipstream en route to his half century from 127 balls.
He did well especially to withstand a testing spell from Mitchell Johnson, who peppered the left-hander with short balls to a field of leg-side catchers from round the wicket.
England badly needed stability from the Yorkshire pair after their early troubles in which Josh Hazlewood made short work of his fellow Ashes newcomer Adam Lyth, Lyon did likewise with Alastair Cook and Ian Bell’s slump continued when Starc found telling swing in his second spell.
Lyth’s was the first departure.
He had tucked Hazlewood’s fourth delivery off his pads for four – but trying to repeat the dose two balls later, instead got a leading edge low for a sharp catch by David Warner at gully.
There were decidedly mixed signals from the pitch in the opening exchanges, two balls in Starc’s first over trickling through on the second bounce to the wicketkeeper and then – after two maidens by one left-armer with the new ball – his surprisingly early replacement Johnson getting alarming lift to hit Ballance on the chest.
Cook’s evident attempt to take the attack to Lyon came to nought when he was undone by a little extra bounce from the off-spinner to be caught-behind cutting. Bell made only a single, taking his sorry recent record to 56 runs in nine Test innings when he missed Starc’s full-length swing to be lbw.
But Root overcame his scratchy start, a faint inside-edge on Starc’s first delivery to him preventing lbw and then his most obvious escape thanks to Haddin.
Thereafter, he was soon playing with a convincing fluency as he and Ballance established a foothold before lunch – and then batted throughout the afternoon.