Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney, 1st day January 2, 2007

England show New Year fight

England 4 for 234 (Bell 71, Flintoff 42*, Collingwood 25*) v Australia
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
How they were out
Short Cuts

Ian Bell struck an important 71 to hand England a solid base © Getty Images
The first of five days of Australian celebrations were interrupted by a solid England batting performance as they tried to upstage the hosts. The tourists' main plan at the SCG is to avoid becoming only the second team to fall to a 5-0 Ashes defeat and they made a strong opening attempt. A fourth half-century of the series to Ian Bell and useful contributions from the rest of the top order drove England to a healthy 4 for 234 at stumps.

However, anything England do in the game will be overshadowed by the exits of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer. If they feel unloved by the time the match is over something will have gone seriously wrong.

The teams walked out this morning to see the three players' names spray-painted on the ground in a mixture so thick the rain that delayed the start for 70 minutes could not wash it away. Each time McGrath or Warne touched the ball or walked to grab their caps they were cheered like returning heroes and at tea the trio stood at the balcony of the dressing room listening to Time to Say Goodbye. Only the title words are sung in English and the players were unable to mouth the lyrics of the Italian operatic rendition like they did for the national anthem in the morning.

On the field McGrath had the most impact with two important wickets that upset England's move from trouble to safety. In Stuart Clark's second over after lunch he removed Alastair Cook to an inside edge, leaving England at 2 for 58, and Bell and Kevin Pietersen did a sensible job in directing them from danger with a 108-run partnership.

However, just as Bell seemed set to break his century drought in the series and Pietersen was ready to muscle his way out of Australia's restrictive fields, McGrath stepped in to dismiss both of them in two overs. The home team's bowlers delivered tight, testing lines and the ball moved off the seam throughout the day, making Pietersen step down the wicket regularly in an attempt to push them off their lines.

The tactic didn't work very often and when he was starved of the strike after tea he made a terminal error by walking at McGrath and miscuing a pull to Michael Hussey, who took a back-tracking catch at midwicket. Until that over Pietersen had stayed largely in control with his hot-stepping, but he departed with 41 and Bell followed quickly.

Bell, who has played with purpose throughout the summer, was again looking comfortable and countered much of the movement before being undone by a McGrath delivery that angled in and caught the edge on the way to the stumps. Had it missed the bat it would have cleared the wickets, but Bell's tentative push away from his body created a crucial deflection.

Glenn McGrath led the day for the retirees with two wickets © Getty Images
It was an unnecessary end to another brave innings from a batsman who is one innings of unbroken concentration away from his first Test century against Australia. He worked the ball strongly through midwicket and was happy to play and miss - many of the balls were so good he had no choice - in a 153-ball stay, which included eight fours. His loss for 71 left England at 4 for 167 and more irritation was averted by Flintoff and Paul Collingwood.

Knowing his name would forever be linked with a 5-0 defeat, Flintoff, who won the toss, produced his smoothest batting of the series with 42 not out as England finished in a mood that was much brighter than the gloomy light that ended play seven overs early. Flintoff lifted Clark for a hefty six over mid-on to signal he would not be tamed and was also comfortable leaving the ball in a way he had not discovered over the first four Tests. With Collingwood he combined in an important stand of 67 that England must build on in the morning if they are to threaten Australia's dominance.

The hosts will not be too bothered by their opponents' efforts and will consider themselves unlucky not to have found more nicks. In the second session Clark, McGrath and Brett Lee were superb but were unable to make regular breakthroughs. McGrath finished with 2 for 57 while Clark and Lee, who collected Andrew Strauss' edge, each picked up a wicket.

Warne delivered 19 overs without success and Langer spilled an early chance off Strauss at third slip as the retirees were led by McGrath. The other two have four more opportunities to shine before they sign off.

Short Cuts

Farewell of the day
Steve Waugh went out to working-class choruses of John Williamson's True Blue in 2004, but the farewells of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer took a step up in class with an operatic rendition of Time to Say Goodbye at tea.

Dead ball of the day
In his final Test McGrath found a way to do something new. Kevin Pietersen was walking down the pitch at him and the unfamiliar tactic caused McGrath to misfire when the ball stuck in his hand at delivery, ending up near the non-striker. It didn't happen again.

Shock of the day
Alastair Cook barely had to time to acclimatise to the fresh sunshine that had replaced the morning rain when Brett Lee's first delivery of the day struck him a nasty knock in the groin. Lee's response appeared to be something like "Happy New Year".

Crowd contest
Australia's Fantatics are in a bay under the scoreboard and they started to flex their vocal muscles with a 4-0 chant after lunch, but their shouts quickly became whispers as the Barmy Army roared into action.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo