Seaming pitches make for better Test cricket. Discuss. The second day of the fourth Test began pretty much as the first with the ball jagging about under cloudy skies.
This time, however, it was England who were on the receiving end, having rudimentary batting skills scrutinised by almost every Australian delivery. Some balls could be kept out, some could not. Survival depended as much on patience as technique – and luck. It was riveting stuff.
England's opening partnership lasted only until the fifth over. Alastair Cook, in hot pursuit of his third hundred of the series, received a ball from Peter Siddle which moved away late from a length. Already drawn into the shot, Cook edged it low to first slip where Shane Watson just clung on the catch.
Cook, who added only two to his overnight score of 80, has now scored 577 runs in the series, already the tenth highest in Ashes rubbers by an England batsman, at an average of 115.4. Siddle was clearly relishing the contest and gave the batsmen no room to manoeuvre, adhering to a rigid line on or around off stump.
The sharp seam movement merely increased his potency and he unleashed a beauty to account for England's captain, Andrew Strauss. As Strauss made to play a regulation leg-side push, the ball reared and seamed from the back of a length, took the leading edge and flew high to gully where Mike Hussey took a one-handed catch above his head.
It was an excellent piece of bowling by Siddle and with only 13 runs added in the morning the tourists still had work to do. Siddle greeted Kevin Pietersen with a series of probing balls, one of which took the outside of the bat only to drop just short of the slip cordon.
Doubtless smarting from the heavy criticism meted out in the Australian morning papers, the home side were busy in the field as if anxious to atone for perceived misdemeanours. But the cricketing public of Australia appeared to have voted with their feet and the MCG was little more than half full at the start of the day with vast swathes of the upper tiers bereft of spectators.
Australians grew rather fed up of their team perpetually winning in the great decade starting in the mid-Nineties but barely acknowledge their existence when they start losing. Those there were at least enthralled by proceedings. Test cricket needs more conditions which make it less easy for batsmen to score runs with faulty methods simply because the ball barely deviates off the straight.
Siddle's encouraging spell had yielded two wickets from a total of 17 overs in which he conceded only 18 runs. It was little wonder that his captain, Ricky Ponting, kept him on for his eighth successive over of the morning but it was perhaps one too far as Pietersen struck fours straight and through mid-wicket (that in the air but wide of the field). The over costs 13 runs in all.
Time for Mitchell Johnson. Where there is Johnson, there is hope, depending which Johnson shows up. But he could find none of the late movement that cut a swathe through England's top order on Perth and shortly gave way to the occasional leg spin of Steve Smith, which Pietersen greeted disdainfully by striking boundaries through extra cover and down the ground. Jonathan Trott was less aggressive but still managed to be busily acquisitive and by lunch England had reached 226 for two, a lead of 128.