Cow Corner

England stutter at the Swalec

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Pundits, players and supporters left the Swalec Stadium in Cardiff united in wondering whether Australia or England had finished the opening day of the first Ashes Test in the ascendancy.

The hosts stuttered to 336-7, and with Paul Collingwood, Matt Prior and Kevin Pietersen contriving to get themselves out after reaching half centuries, it was an uncertain crowd which left the ground.

After the talking - or rather the opera singing, balloons and tardy fireworks - had abated, the first delivery was finally bowled, and it turned out to be quite an anti-climax.

Mitchell Johnson, lacking a sense of theatre, missed out on the opportunity to deliver an iconic piece of cricketing history with an innocuous ball which dribbled through to Brad Haddin. Steve Harmison would never have disappointed the fans in that manner.

Given that Australia's smallest ground is Adelaide with a capacity of 32,000, Cardiff's Swalec Stadium sell-out crowd of 16,000 seemed pretty paltry. But the atmosphere was at least fervent.

The last time a cricket pitch was under such scrutiny was at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua where the groundsman mistakenly 'heavy rolled' the pitch with a digger. After raking the remains of the wicket as if it were a long-jump pit, questions began to be asked about the man in question. But Cardiff's track was exemplary.

When Mike 'Mr Cricket' Hussey flung himself to his right to snaffle a corker of a catch to dismiss Alastair Cook, the Australia players slapped, patted and hugged each other with such exuberance, one was slightly taken aback.

Not since Simon Katich grabbed Michael Clarke by the throat when he attempted to leave the dressing room prior to Australia's 'team song' against Bangladesh in February, have group frivolities been taken so seriously.

The match began to hit the high notes when Peter Siddle got a vicious bouncer to rear up at Ravi Bopara, who decided the best course of action was to dampen the ball's pace by playing it with his throat.

Prior to the match, Australia captain Ricky Ponting had said: "I want our guys to do things you will be amazed at." Well, when Nathan Hauritz got a ball to turn in the 57th over of the day, there was indeed an audible gasp from the Cardiff crowd.

Paul Collingwood appears to be building his career in reverse, taking the credit card approach to honours: getting an MBE for doing very little, then spending the rest of his career striving to repay it.

England's number five steadied his side as they wobbled and, after going for a record of consecutive leaves, played a forward defensive as if it were an expansive drive, admiring his technique with wonder.

At a time when many professional bats resemble railway sleepers, one particular shot from Collingwood put a knowing smile on every club cricketer's face.

After dancing down the track with a look of destruction in his eyes, and bludgeoning a straight drive over the bowler's head, he was forced to shout the disheartening phrase: "It's not going to go, run them up KP!"

The overall feeling from Cardiff was of a successful debut for the venue, and no one will have been more surprised than the England and Wales players themselves, who seemed to know nothing about the place before play began.

"I've never played there and have no idea what it will be like," England wicketkeeper Prior had said insightfully.

"No. I don't know what to expect either," added Monty Panesar, who had clearly been told the match conditions were made for him, but was not entirely sure why.

"It is sure to be a surprise for everyone," was Collingwood's sweeping assessment, as the value of England's 'home advantage' began to appear rather hollow.

However, it was a positive response from those watching from the stands, including Michael Vaughan, who was busy quaffing stiff glasses of Pimms, while Simon Jones looked on ruefully nearby.

Former England spinner Robert Croft certainly looked at home at the Glamorgan ground, smiling smugly and muttering to anyone who would listen that even he turns it more than Hauritz.

Andrew Strauss said of the match: "It is very special for me. It must be viewed as special because that is what it is - special." A statement which left nobody in doubt.

Hopefully tomorrow will be just as special as England look to reach 400 plus to put the onus on the Australia batsmen and give Panesar et al something to leap around about.

USER COMMENT OF THE DAY: What is James Anderson doing out there? Yet again we­ persist with this negative nightwatchman policy - it is­ ridiculous, absolutely pathetic! Now, a half-decent­ batsman like Stuart Broad or Graeme Swann is more than likely going to­ be left stranded not out! I am shaking my head in utter­ disbelief! (Cameron W, who was clearly not overly convinced by England's indiscriminate application of the nightwatchman tactic, along with Anderson himself, presumably).

STAT OF THE DAY: Cardiff is the 100th Test ground to be used, the ninth in Britain and the first in Wales. And yes, while we are at it, Anderson has taken his run of consecutive innings without a duck to 49 after he drove Mitchell Johnson through the covers for two in the final over. 

SHOT OF THE DAY: A delightful on drive from Bopara which moved England serenely past 50 with the number three caressing the ball off his pads and leaning nonchalantly on his bat before probably suggesting to Siddle how he could improve. He was then promptly dismissed in the following over.

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