Ricky Ponting was cheered, rather than booed, to the crease; Shane Watson once again missed out on a century, but only just this time; and England's "next cab off the rank" stayed in the parking lot. It was not a bad day in the Kent sunshine for Australia, really.
Four years ago, when they last came to defend the urn, the Australians had plenty to worry them during an equivalent two-day game between the Fourth and Fifth Tests. For a start, Ponting's men were 2-1 down in that series, rather than sitting reasonably pretty at 1-1, and then they were obliged to spend a long Saturday in Essex chasing leather as two promising young batsmen went run-crazy.
Alastair Cook hit a double hundred and Ravi Bopara made 135 at Chelmsford. Happy times. But any possibility of Jonathan Trott, the newcomer who will replace Bopara at The Oval on Thursday, barring something unexpected, putting Australia's bowlers to the sword disappeared when he was withdrawn from the England Lions team.
Had he played, Trott might have injured himself. Alternatively, he could have been worked over by Mitchell Johnson and Brett Lee. But maybe, just maybe, the Warwickshire batsman would have imposed himself on the opposition and given England a little lift heading into the most important week of the season. We will never know, with the selectors having decided to play safe. But one thing is for sure: Trott will soon find himself in a whole new ball game.
"It's a huge step up from first-class cricket to Test cricket, particularly for the Ashes," said Australia's Mike Hussey. "He'll certainly know all about it if he makes his debut in this series. If he'd played here, it would probably have been a good chance for us to have a look at him but it would also have given him a chance to look at our bowlers. He was initially in the team so we were expecting to see him."
The only decision for Australia to make on Thursday, it would seem, is which paceman makes way to accommodate the return of the spinner Nathan Hauritz, who was sensibly omitted at seam- and swing-friendly Headingley. Stuart Clark fears the worst but Australia have not only given him an opportunity here, but also included Peter Siddle, Johnson and Lee in a bowler-heavy team.
Put in to bat, Australia looked for a short time as though they might be embarrassingly light on batting. Steve Kirby and James Harris gained a fair bit of assistance with the new ball and struck early, albeit through Simon Katich cutting a long hop from Harris to point.
Since hitting a century in the First Test at Cardiff, Katich has lost the plot a little. But having declined to give the now spare opener, Phillip Hughes, a game, the Australians clearly do not plan another change at the top of the order. The one switch they did make, jettisoning Hughes after two Tests, has worked a treat. Watson may have failed to convert any of his three half-centuries against England into a hundred but he has done the team proud.
Watson hit the ball ferociously hard once he settled, pulling and driving as runs flowed at better than five an over.Ponting, who was given a fine reception by a crowd of around 5,000, gifted Chris Woakes his wicket by feathering a pull down the leg-side. But Watson's departure, after hitting 15 fours and a pulled six off Woakes, was a greater surprise. Five shy of a hundred, he played a firm-footed waft against Liam Plunkett and edged a catch behind.
That was the end of the real excitement, apart from when Michael Carberry held a terrific low catch at point to remove Marcus North.Reuse content