Cricket: Mullally makes breakthrough

Australia 58-1 v England (lunch score)
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THE OPENING session of Ashes series opened cautiously as England probed their opponents. Opening sessions can be notoriously fickle at the Gabba, and both sides showed appeared to show undue respect for one another and by lunch, Australia had moved to 58 for 1.

The first over, a tidy maiden from Darren Gough, was in direct contrast to the one here four years ago. Then Michael Slater walloped the first two balls of the match to the cover fence, a gesture that took England three Tests to recover from.

Slater, who went on to score a century was less succesful this time, and having given one sharp chance to Nasser Hussain at second slip off Alan Mullally, he succumbed in the bowler's next over.

Gough, who along with his team-mates wore a black armband in honour of his grandfather, who died last Wednesday, bowled briskly, if a touch negatively, at the openers. In Australia, the new ball is crucial and both he and Dominic Cork, allowed the openers to leave far too many deliveries alone.

Mark Taylor, playing in his 100th Test, had to wait until the fifth over to get off the mark. The Gabba, which was sold outy for the first match in the five-Test Ashes series, is his favourite ground in Australia and he averages 67 here in Tests. Back to form his judgement was impeccable and only a close shout for lbw from Gough ruffled his captain's plumage before lunch.

His partner Slater looks more jittery and it was the slow building of pressure that led to the push off Mullallay that Hussain spilled. But if England were upset, they did not show it and Slater happily obliged soon after with an even rasher stroke that carried head high to Mark Butcher at wide third slip.

With the left-handed Justin Langer joining the similarly cack-handed Taylor at the crease, it was not long before Alec Stewart turned to his off-spinner, Robert Croft. A spinner before lunch, England must be confident. He obliged with a couple of maiden overs, which helped to maintain the pressure.

Mullally, who had been left out of the England team since he played his ninth Test, against New Zealand in Auckland, nearly two years ago, earned his chance when England chose to omit John Crawley from their chosen 12 and play six batsmen and Croft to support their four-strong seam attack.

Alec Stewart gave the new ball to Gough and Cork, but after replacing Gough from the Stanley Street End, after the Yorkshireman's opening spell yielded impressive figures of 5-2-6-0, Mullally struck in his fourth over.

The breakthrough capped an impressive first hour by England, who restricted Australia's normally rapid scoring rate to a minimum.

Aside from hism leg-before appeal, Gough twice tested Taylor's resolve with impressive bouncers, which forced the Australian captain to duck sharply. Cork was equally accurate and had a highly optimistic appeal rejected by the Australian umpire, Darrell Hair, when he thought Slater had edged behind down the leg side as he attempted to clip the ball off his hips.

Graham Gooch, the former England captain who is now one of the selectors, was satisfied with the tourists' performance in the first session. "Our guys have battled well," he said after the teams came off for the lunch interval. "They have put the ball in pretty much the right place, but it looks like a pretty good pitch."


(First day of five; lunch scoreboard)

Australia won toss

*M A Taylor not out 30

M J Slater c Butcher b Mullally 16

J L Langer not out 7

Extras (3lb, 2nb) 5

Total (for 1, 29 overs) 58

Fall: 1-30 (Slater).

To bat: M E Waugh, S R Waugh, R T Ponting, I A Healy, D W Fleming, M S Kasprowicz, S C G MacGill, G D McGrath.

Bowling: D Gough 7-2-19-0 (5-2-6-0, 2-0-13-0); D G Cork 9-4-9-0 (one spell); A D Mullally 7-2-16-1 (one spell) R D B Croft 3-2-2-0 (one spell); A R C Fraser 3-1-9-0 (one spell).

England: M A Atherton, M A Butcher, N Hussain, *A J Stewart, G P Thorpe, M R Ramprakash, D G Cork, R D B Croft, D Gough, A R C Fraser, A D Mullally.

Umpires: D B Hair (Aus) and K T Francis (Sri Lanka).