There is a long, long way to go but England at last began to take control of their destiny yesterday. It was as unexpected as it was remarkable and the possibility is that Australia are merely lying doggo before they come out blazing in the next three days to secure a record that has endured for three-quarters of a century.
But blaze they must if they are to avoid becoming the first Australia team to lose a Test match at the great ground since 1934. Too often yesterday they did not so much blaze as splutter and the suspicion was once more confirmed that despite the tourists' pre-eminence at Cardiff there is little between these sides. The Ashes are in the balance.
England were all out for 425, fewer than they would have liked at the start of proceedings, but more than they dared hope for not long afterwards when three wickets fell in 17 balls. A thrilling, unlikely and from Australia's viewpoint wholly irksome last-wicket stand of 47 regained the impetus for England and there it stayed for most of the remainder of the second day of the second Test.
Jimmy Anderson was prominent in both disciplines for England and the sole blot on an uplifting day was the chronic Achilles injury which kept Kevin Pietersen off the field for much of the proceedings.
Australia had a grotesque, unfortunate start to their first innings from which they never properly recovered. They were unlucky but then they did not make enough of their own luck either. Whereas at Cardiff they had prospered by playing authentic Test cricket, being patient and vigilant, they were almost cavalier yesterday and regularly obliged by falling into England's traps.
The most pleasing aspect of England's seam bowling quartet was that its purported leader, Anderson, lived up to the billing. His four wickets from the eight that England captured before bad light eventually brought an interrupted day to a close represented his best return against Australia and he conveyed the impression of authority and command. He has risen from the ranks to become officer material. England would dearly like it if their first important decision today is whether to ask Australia to follow on (if there is weather about, as they say, the invitation should be on embossed card and issued in triplicate).
Before lunch was taken and the Queen was introduced to the teams, England had lost their last four wickets and Australia their first two. England's day began dreadfully when their captain's long stay was brought to a hasty conclusion. Andrew Strauss shouldered arms to the second ball of the day from the estimable Ben Hilfenhaus: an inglorious end to a glorious innings.
Before long, Graeme Swann had nicked a short ball to second slip and Stuart Broad, driving, dragged on one. That, Australia, must have thought, was pretty much that. But Anderson and Graham Onions were splendid, refusing to be overawed and rattling along at a lick designed to irritate. Anderson played two cover drives that would not have shamed David Gower in his pomp. The pair put on 47 runs in 53 balls.
To recover from this, Australia needed to start impressively. By the time the wonder boy Phillip Hughes had gloved a leg-side ball behind and the captain Ricky Ponting was out in dubious circumstances this aspiration had receded to the point of no return.
Ponting was the victim of an umpiring oversight and crass regulations. An inswinging ball from Anderson flew off his pad to first slip. The bowler went up for an lbw appeal, which Rudi Koertzen was clearly not minded to give because he consulted first with Billy Doctrove to see if the ball had carried to Strauss at first slip. Koertzen's opinion was that Ponting had edged the ball on to his pads. Television replays showed that Ponting had not hit it but that the ball might have gone on to hit leg stump. He was given out caught at slip. Only in cricket.
Australia being Australia, they mounted a sterling resistance. For most of the afternoon session, which was twice interrupted by rain, England rarely looked like taking another wicket. They passed the bat occasionally but both Simon Katich and Mike Hussey went about their business like, well, like Australians.
It took a stunning catch by Broad at long leg to dismiss Katich who pulled a ball from Onions which was outside off, and that reignited England. From then on they swept all before them. Hussey was bowled by Andrew Flintoff leaving one he mistakenly thought was going over the top, Michael Clarke drove the returning Anderson to short mid-wicket, where Alastair Cook was waiting. It made Strauss look a strategic genius: he brought back the bowler and positioned the fielder.
England bowled full and straight and Australia had nothing which they could attack. Thus inhibited, Marcus North played a villainous heave across the line. This brought Broad, who had been innocuous until then, to the party. He bounced Mitchell Johnson, again according to a well-laid plan, and also had Brad Haddin out hooking.
It was 152 for 8 and Australia were in desperate need of intervention by the weather. They received it when the light faded and the artificial lights meant that shadows were being cast across the pitch with 23 overs left unbowled, but they may well need much more today. England can begin to sense the tide of history turning.
Second Test Details
Cloudy, with light rain expected throughout the day. Maximum temperature 19c.
Sky Sports 1, HD1, 10.00-19.00
Highlights Sky Sports 1, 20.00-22.00, Five 19.15-20.00
*Bet of the day
Next Australian wicket to be out caught and bowled: 16-1 (William Hill)Reuse content