Australia bounce back after return of the Edgbaston curse
Shades of McGrath in 2005 return as Haddin breaks finger moments before start
Friday 31 July 2009
Australia experienced another Glenn McGrath moment at Edgbaston yesterday, but it was England who suffered a lot more pain on this occasion with all their fast bowlers put to the sword by new opener Shane Watson when the third Ashes Test finally beat the weather.
Four years ago, McGrath missed the second match of the series, having stood on a ball during his team's warm-up session, and nothing much went right for the Aussies after that. This time, wicketkeeper Brad Haddin had to be replaced by the uncapped reserve Graham Manou after fracturing a finger shortly before start of play.
England agreed to the switch – they could have refused because the teams had been announced and the toss had taken place – but that was just the start of the generosity shown by Andrew Strauss's team when play finally began at 5pm. It was the bowling of Messrs Anderson, Flintoff, Onions and Broad that really disappointed, especially against Watson, as Australia powered to 126 for 1 in just 30 overs.
Katich fell lbw to spinner Graeme Swann following a stand of 85. But the all-rounder Watson, surprisingly called up to replace Phillip Hughes and opening in a Test for the first time, completed an 89-ball half-century and, with Ricky Ponting for company, had reached 62 by the close.
Hughes announced his axing overnight on the social networking site Twitter, giving England several hours' unofficial notice and earning the 20-year-old a rap across the knuckles from Australia's management. But Watson appearing at the top of the order still surprised Strauss's men.
"I was a bit surprised [to see Watson opening]," Swann said. "I didn't know he was an opening batsman but he played like one today so all credit to him. After we've seen him play, we've got a much better idea of how he is going to bat and, hopefully, we can come up with something more useful.
England's new ball pair of Anderson and Flintoff were guilty of failing to make Katich and Watson play nearly enough – and, when they did demand attention, it was usually an invitation to hit a boundary through either pitching too full or too short.
"We weren't consistent enough and did not put the ball in the right place often enough," Swann said. "But we can take stock and look at where we are going to bowl, at Watson in particular, and I'm sure we'll come 100 per cent improved."
No wonder Australia ended the day a lot happier than when Haddin damaged his finger during catching practice. The Australia coach, Tim Neilsen, described England's action in allowing Manou to play as a "fine gesture". He was probably fairly pleased with the way they bowled, too.
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