Trott's steady pace brings Ashes slowly but surely within reach

Australia 98 England 444-5
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The Independent Online

The batting of Jonathan Trott rarely uplifts the soul. It is the sort of thing only a mother could love and then only under oath. Yet it is what he has done for England, and not the way he has done it, that must count when the great scorer comes.

Trott took his tally of runs for 2010 to 1,298 (and counting) yesterday with his fifth Test century, his second of this Ashes series and his third against Australia in eight innings. As for his Test batting average, it is at present going through the roof.

He has something in the bank for the rainy days that are bound to come. How different he is from the chap who had such a tough tour of South Africa exactly a year ago, when it seemed that the rigours of Test cricket might find him out.

Trott's innings was like its forerunners in being pragmatic rather than stylish and it was achieved almost by stealth. There was nothing immediately noteworthy about it, but that did not diminish its importance in bringing the Ashes a step closer.

He had reached 141 at the end of day two, by which time he and Matt Prior had shared a stand of 158 for the sixth wicket and England were 346 runs ahead. Limping after edging a ball hard into his knee, that could not prevent the spring in his step.

It was a day that saw Australia's captain, Ricky Ponting, offer a rounded performance of a man at the end of his tether by arguing, separately, with both umpires when a decision went against his side. Not much had gone right for Australia since they lost the toss and here for all to see was evidence of their troubled state.

Still, it was Trott's day. By the end of only his 17th Test match, he might have played in two Ashes-winning teams, having started his international career with a hundred against Australia in the decisive match at The Oval in 2009. Others have seen whole cricketing lifetimes pass by without that sort of glory.

If 159 for 1 after the opposition have been bowled out for 98, sounds the ideal platform for a No 3, Trott had to weather the tricky part of the second day. There was heavy cloud cover over the MCG, the ball was jagging around furiously and Australia were clearly intent on giving it one last shot.

Trott offered a perpendicular bat when he had to, left much alone because it was wise but remained acquisitive, trying to rotate the strike. For a third-wicket partnership of 92, he did so with Kevin Pietersen who, to nobody's great surprise but on this occasion through no fault of his own, was at the centre of the storm.

Pietersen had almost reached a sterling fifty when he was beaten on the inside by a lifting ball from Ryan Harris. Umpire Aleem Dar turned down an appeal which was full-throated only from wicketkeeper Brad Haddin, but at Haddin's behest Australia called for a review.

It was pretty apparent, pretty quickly, that close though the ball might have been to Pietersen's inside edge it had not conclusively touched it. The Hot Spot technology, without the dreaded white spot which normally illustrates the moment of impact, decreed it had not.

But Ricky Ponting, Australia's captain, had clearly had enough. He began an animated discussion with Dar, with the fast bowler Peter Siddle at his side. Having vented his spleen, Ponting continued in the direction of Pietersen himself and then pursued further lines of inquiry with the other umpire, Tony Hill. It was not a pretty sight.

As it happens, Pietersen was out two runs later when he was leg before to Siddle to a ball that kept low. Shortly after, Trott survived one of his few scares when he just beat Ponting's throw while scampering for a third run. The replay showed it was close, but not close enough for poor Ponting.

After Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell both hooked Mitchell Johnson to long leg, England still had work to do. They were both ill-advised strokes and in Collingwood's case it might have brought the end of a Test career closer.

There was so nearly a further boost for Australia when Matt Prior edged Johnson behind. No doubt about the edge this time and Prior duly walked. But as he passed Dar he was told to stop. It was soon evident that the umpire wished to check the legitimacy of Johnson's delivery and the replay showed he had overstepped the line. No-ball was called and Prior reoccupied the crease.

Prior, unsettled until then, was to make Australia pay dearly. Soon enough, he was playing some delicately fashioned late cuts and driving through the on side. Trott reached his hundred with only his seventh four from his 211th ball and, after raising one arm aloft as has become his wont, immediately scratched the crease as if digging in for more.

The pitch lost its menace as the sun broke through, and so did Australia's bowlers. Siddle was the best of them. He could snarl for an International Snarling XI but he bowled with passion and fire when there was something in the pitch.

It was he who gave his side a glimmer of something less than despair when he removed the England openers, Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook, at the start of the day. He persuaded Cook to edge to first slip and produced a brute to Strauss which climbed, took the leading edge as he aimed to leg and ended being caught high at gully. That was as good as it was to get for Australia. For England it was getting better all the time.

Melbourne scoreboard

Fourth Ashes Test, Melbourne (Second day of five): England are leading Australia by 346 runs with five first-innings wickets in hand

England won toss

AUSTRALIA First Innings 98 (Tremlett 4-26, Anderson 4-44)

ENGLAND First Innings

Overnight 157-0

*A J Strauss c Hussey b Siddle       69

167 balls 5 fours

A N Cook c Watson b Siddle       82

152 balls 11 fours

I J L Trott not out       141

278 balls 13 fours

K P Pietersen lbw b Siddle       51

89 balls 7 fours

P D Collingwood c Siddle b Johnson       8

15 balls 1 four

I R Bell c Siddle b Johnson       1

13 balls

†M J Prior not out       75

105 balls 10 fours

Extras (b10 lb1 w3 nb3)       17

Total (5 wkts, 136 overs)       444

Fall: 1-159, 2-170, 3-262, 4-281, 5-286.

To bat: T T Bresnan, G P Swann, J M Anderson, C T Tremlett.

Bowling: B W Hilfenhaus 29-9-72-0 (1w) (3-0-6-0, 6-3-20-0, 10-5-14-0, 3-0-11-0, 7-1-21-0), R J Harris 25-7-83-0 (2-1-8-0, 4-0-9-0, 4-2-13-0, 4-1-9-0, 5-0-22-0, 6-3-22-0), M G Johnson 25-2-103-2 (2nb, 2w) (3-0-18-0, 4-0-24-0, 5-1-15-0, 8-1-27-2, 5-0-19-0), P M Siddle 26-8-58-3 (1nb) (6-2-9-0, 11-4-22-2, 5-1-10-1, 4-1-17-0), S R Watson 10-1-34-0 (5-1-14-0, 2-0-10-0, 3-0-10-0), S P D Smith 18-3-71-0 (6-0-22-0, 5-2-17-0, 7-1-32-0), M J Clarke 3-0-12-0 (one spell).

Progress: Second day: 200 in 65.5 overs, Lunch 226-2 (Trott 31, Pietersen 30) 76.0 overs, 250 in 81.1 overs, 300 in 100 overs, Tea 304-5 (Trott 65, Prior 12) 101.0 overs, 350 in 114.2 overs, 400 in 125.5 overs, Close of play 444-5 (Trott 141, Prior 75) 136 overs,

Trott: 50 118 balls, 2 fours, 100 211 balls, 6 fours. Pietersen: 50 85 balls, 7 fours. Prior: 50 81 balls, 6 fours.

Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and A L Hill (NZ).

TV umpire: M Erasmus (SA).

Match referee: R S Madugalle (Sri Lanka).