ENGLAND'S traditional start to a home Ashes series is to win the toss, invite the opposition to bat, and then wait for them to fill their boots. In 1989, Australia clocked up a first day total of 207 for 3 en route to 601 for 7 declared, and while yesterday's 242 for 5 represents an uncomfortable case of deja vu, things could be a great deal worse.
From Madras to Manchester, it was, for most of the day, a familiar story, and there was not even, so far as we know, a dodgy meat and potato pie to blame it on. It is, however, a dodgy pitch that renders today's play so intriguing, and encouraging though it was to see England claw Australia back from 183 for 1 in the final hour and a half, all the signs are that it will be considerably more difficult for batting over the next three sessions.
The sawdust piles were heavily in evidence when play finally began - an hour late - on an overcast morning, but with Australia anticipating (as Graham Gooch undoubtedly was when he sent them in) that the ball would dart around all over the place on a surface still wet from last Sunday's deluge, it merely limped on to the centre of the bat.
Shortly after tea, however, a more unusual Manchester phenomenon - sunshine - began to bake the moisture towards the surface, and on what was close to being an old-fashioned sticky dog, an old-fashioned sort of spinner suddenly found grip and turn that had not hitherto been there.
Peter Such looked an improbable England player when he was plying his trade for Leicestershire's second XI at places such as Lutterworth and Ashby-de-la-Zouch not so long ago, but Essex have rebuilt both his career and his confidence, and he celebrated his debut yesterday by taking three of the last four Australian wickets.
The second of his victims was Mark Taylor, spooning a return catch after having previously lofted Such over long-on for six, but we will very likely discover today that Taylor's century - his ninth in Test matches, and third against England - has placed Australia in an ominously good position. Shane Warne's leg spin will be no less a handful than Such's off spin, and there may also be a lot more in the pitch for Australia's seamers than there was for England's yesterday.
The best of them was Phillip DeFreitas, even though the circumstances surrounding his presence in the side were a little dubious to say the least. Mark Ilott, chosen in the original 12, was omitted to make way for him after Alan Igglesden's withdrawal, and if DeFreitas had not been on his home ground at the same time as Igglesden went in the groin, who knows who the selectors might have sent for?
Ilott was not, as he could have been, released to play for Essex, and like Mark Lathwell in the one-dayers, he was doubtless retained to gain big- match experience by manning the roller towel in the dressing room. However, in omitting Ilott, they at least made the right choice of picking two spinners, and Philip Tufnell also played a part in England's late revival by picking up Mark Waugh's wicket.
In the first session, though, DeFreitas, Andrew Caddick and Chris Lewis barely got anything past the bat, and once Taylor and his young New South Wales partner, Michael Slater, had twigged that nothing was moving sideways off the seam, they began to pick up runs more or less as they pleased.
As is often the way when England are confronted by partnerships involving one right-hander and one left, they struggled to bowl a decent line, and Australia's openers were separated by only a minute or two in reaching their half-centuries. Slater, in fact, owed his dismissal - caught behind aiming a horrible leg-side hoik at a wide one from DeFreitas - more to over-excitement than a debutant's nerves.
England's problems were exacerbated by some clumsiness in the field that also, on one occasion, involved Lewis, although it was less of a shock to the system to see Lewis let a ball through his legs than it was to see Graeme Hick dropping a slip catch. Taylor was on 64 when he edged DeFreitas, and by Hick's standards, it was a routine offering.
Taylor is not the sort of batsman for England to be donating an extra innings. In 1989 he racked up 839 runs in the series, the third highest aggregate (behind Bradman and Hammond) in Test history, and while he is never likely to start a bush fire with scorching strokeplay, his solid technique makes him ideally suited to English conditions.
Like Slater, Taylor hails from Wagga Wagga, where there is probably not much else to do but bat all day. This he did more than once in 1989, and Taylor was threatening to again until, during the extra hour added to make up for the delayed start, he lapsed in concentration.
David Boon, coming in after the openers had put on 128, provided Such with his first Test wicket when Lewis took a catch at the second attempt at slip. By this time the ball was occasionally turning at right angles, and when Such ripped one through the gate to bowl Steve Waugh, it was not entirely good news for today.
OLD TRAFFORD SCOREBOARD
(England won toss)
AUSTRALIA - First Innings
M A Taylor c and b Such. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 124
(325 min, 234 balls, 12 fours, 2 sixes)
M J Slater c Stewart b DeFreitas. . . . . . . . . . 58
(165 min, 131 balls, 7 fours)
D C Boon c Lewis b Such. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21
(107 min, 90 balls, 1 four)
M E Waugh c and b Tufnell. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
(41 min, 37 balls)
* A R Border not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9
(44 min, 28 balls)
S R Waugh b Such. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3
(19 min, 19 balls)
] I A Healy not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
(16 min, 25 balls, 1 four)
Extras (lb8, nb7). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .15
Total (for 5, 363 mins, 92 overs). . . . . . . . . 242
Fall: 1-128 (Slater), 2-183 (Boon), 3-221 (M Waugh), 4-225 (Taylor), 5-232 (S Waugh).
To bat: B P Julian, M G Hughes, S K Warne, C J McDermott.
Bowling: Caddick 15-4-38-0 (nb1) (First spell: 6-2-16-0; Second: 5-0-15-0; Third: 4-2-7-0); DeFreitas 20-8-33-1 (nb3)
(8-3-14-0; 6-3-7-1; 6-2-12-0); Lewis 13-2-44-0 (nb4) (4-1-13-0; 9-1-31-0); Such 23-5-54-3 (7-1-28-0; 16-4-26-3); Tufnell 21-4- 65-1 (nb3) (11-2-32-0;10-2-33-1).
Progress: Start delayed until noon (overnight rain). 50: 89 min, 21 overs. Lunch: 58-0 (Taylor 26, Slater 30) in 22 overs. 100: 137 min, 36 overs. 150: 215 min, 53.4 overs. Tea: 158-1 (Taylor 77, Boon 14) in 55 overs. 200: 302 mins, 75 overs.
Taylor's 50: 138 min, 114 balls, 7 fours. 100: 293 min, 210 balls, 12 fours. Slater's 50: 140 min, 111 balls, 7 fours.
ENGLAND: *G A Gooch, M A Atherton, R A Smith, M W Gatting, G A Hick, A J Stewart, C C Lewis, A R Caddick, P M Such, P A J DeFreitas, P C R Tufnell.
Umpires: H D Bird and K E Palmer.
County reports, Scoreboard, page 39
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