Lunch Report: England leave fragile Australia reeling with fierce early blows
England squeezed Australia until their pips squeaked on the second morning of the final Test. With deadeye dick bowling and alert, athletic fielding, which has served them so well throughout the entire series, they scythed their way through their opponents' first innings.
Precious scoring opportunities were constantly denied, a tactic that paid handsome dividends, ensuring that Australian techniques and patience were found wanting. Four wickets fell all too quickly before some resistance was offered in a stubborn ninth-wicket stand between Mitchell Johnson and Ben Hilfenhaus which left Australia on 230 for eight at lunch. All the batsmen contributed to their own downfalls, seemingly unable to withstand the scrutiny of being regularly denied stroke-playing opportunities.
The first man to depart, perhaps most culpably of all, was the newly-appointed vice-captain, Brad Haddin, who played a statuesque drive well away from his body at Jimmy Anderson, which edged to give wicketkeeper Matt Prior his 17th catch of the series.
Australia tried to re-group through their man of the series, Mike Hussey, who left everything he could outside off stump. The run rate again was kept to two an over but Hussey knew that conditions were bound to ease if he could hang in.
Then with the last delivery with the old ball, he was dismissed by a neat piece of bowling from Paul Collingwood, who was merely turning his arm until the second new ball. Collingwood had bowled a sequence of tempting away swingers outside off stump that Hussey let go. He then took one sharply back in which surprised Hussey and he edged it into his stumps.
Steve Smith had been a skittish presence, sometimes solid in defence but too often flirting with danger. Australia have invested considerably in him as part of their future but he has yet to begin to repay the selectors' faith. The stroke which caused his dismissal was again poor, an ambitious drive to an Anderson away swinger which flew only as far as Collingwood at third slip.
Four balls later, Peter Siddle, who is often a lower-order sticker, found Anderson far too good for him and another catch was taken behind the wicket, this one by captain Andrew Strauss at first slip. Defiance was offered by Johnson who combined defence with occasional belligerence. He pulled two boundaries and with Hilfenhaus also gathering fours, one through gully and another more assuredly via square leg, Australia's tail wagged rather more animatedly than England might have preferred before lunch.
Johnson oddly turned down singles, protecting the No 10 batsman, Hilfenhaus and this elicited understandable boos from the crowd. But the pair gradually became more bold, and the 200 mark came and went.
England would have been well aware that the threat of Johnson grew each minute he stayed at the crease. When he made a breezy 62 at Perth in the third Test, his fragile confidence was so lifted that he came out and bowled a memorable spell that effectively won the Test and squared the series.
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