Strauss ton holds England together
England 364 for 6 (Strauss 161*, Broad 7*) v Australia
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Andrew Strauss launched a stirring riposte to Ricky Ponting's 150 in Cardiff, carrying his bat through the first day to hand England the early ascendancy in the second Test. Strong off his pads, and stronger through the point region, Strauss (161 not out) moved within 16 runs of his highest ever Test score and beyond the 5,000-run career barrier. But the significance of this innings lay not in personal milestones but in its impact on an England team which, after the tea break, looked decidedly shaky against the enigmatic Mitchell Johnson and the consistent Ben Hilfenhaus.
Profligate in the first session, potent in the last, Johnson personified a day of fluctuating fortunes at Lord's. The foundations built by Strauss and Alastair Cook during an historic 196-run opening stand were eroded by a middle order stumble that drew Australia back into the contest. And, in both cases, Johnson was the pivotal figure.
Through his first 11 overs Johnson conceded 77 runs, including 15 boundaries, to allow England the opportunity to build on the bonhomie of their Cardiff escape. Whether overawed by the occasion of his first Lord's Test, upset by the ground's pronounced slope or just shy of form and confidence, Australia's spearhead appeared decidedly blunt in his exchanges with Strauss and Cook, guilty of straying both sides of the wicket and failing to find a consistent length in the period before tea.
But with a change of session came a change of fortune. The ball, which stubbornly refused to swing while still coated in lacquer, suddenly found its arc, with Johnson its pilot. His reverse swing slowed a scoring rate that had threatened to spiral out of control, and eventually accounted for the wicket of Matt Prior, bowled to a beautiful, tailing delivery.
Were it not for the stoic batting of Strauss, who ground his way to his highest Test score on home soil, Johnson, Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle may well have seized back all the initiative surrendered in the earlier sessions. As it was, England headed to stumps in a position of strength, though perhaps not quite as strong as they might have hoped, after a final session in which four wickets fell for the addition of 109 runs.
Together with Cook, Strauss forged the highest first-wicket partnership by an England combination at Lord's (196) in an Ashes Test, bettering by 14 runs the 83-year-old record held by Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe. Though Cook fell just five runs short of his century, becoming Johnson's 100th Test scalp in the process, Strauss thrust forth into the evening, denying the probing offerings of Johnson and Hilfenhaus with both old and new balls
Prior to the final session, England's cause had been helped no end by an Australian attack that lurched from the lamentable to the horrendous, and one temporarily without the services of Nathan Hauritz. Hauritz, in dropping a powerfully struck return catch by Strauss, dislocated the middle finger on his bowling hand and was immediately taken from the field for treatment. So savage was the force of Strauss's drive that Hauritz, upon viewing his contorted finger, immediately signalled to the dressing room in distress and almost vomited on the pristine playing surface.
Scans cleared Hauritz of a fracture, and the off-spinner resumed his place in the field in the final session. But the Australians will nonetheless harbour significant concerns over Hauritz's effectiveness over the final four days - both for variation, and also the workload of their fast bowlers, who are playing the second of back-to-back Test matches.
Extras, misfields and overthrows all blighted Australia's morning effort, but by far the biggest disappointment was Johnson, who arrived on these shores trumpeted as the best paceman in international cricket. In a portent of what was to come, Johnson began the day with a full, leg-side delivery that Cook duly clipped to the square-leg boundary. His errant ways continued in the first half-hour, at one stage conceding four boundaries in six deliveries to Strauss, prompting Ponting to replace him with Siddle after four expensive (26 runs) overs.
Siddle, too, was awry, failing to contend with the slope of the Lord's pitch and making life difficult for Brad Haddin. Australia's only saving grace was Hilfenhaus, who began the match with three consecutive maidens and was rewarded after lunch with the wicket of Ravi Bopara. He might also have had Strauss earlier in the second session, if not for the small detail of his no-ball and Haddin's turfed catch. Strauss went onto raise his 18th Test century moments before tea. It was that kind of day for the Australians.
The confidence of England's openers visibly lifted over the course of the first session. Cook, the chief aggressor, enthralled the capacity Lord's crowd in the lead-up to lunch by pulling Johnson at every opportunity - not all of them from bad deliveries - en route to a half-century raised from just 73 deliveries. Strauss, save for a bright flurry against Johnson, was happy to steadily accumulate as part of a partnership that rocketed along to 125 by the lunch break.
Eight minutes prior to lunch, Cook and Strauss bettered their highest ever opening partnership against Australia, eclipsing their stand of 116 from the Perth Test two years ago. They advanced that total to 196 - England's highest opening stand in an Ashes Test since 1956 - before Cook fell in the 48th over to a fuller, straighter Johnson delivery that rapped him on the back pad.
England's day tapered thereafter. Bopara's cheap dismissal was compounded by that of Kevin Pietersen, whose aura is dimming with each innings at present. The prodigiously talented batsmen tried mightily to surrender his wicket before the tea break, and succeeded just after by playing inside a shorter Siddle delivery. Paul Collingwood, the rock of Cardiff, then fell to the loosest of strokes off the bowling of Michael Clarke, and was soon followed by Andrew Flintoff, the departing hero, who edged a Hilfenhaus offering to Ponting at second slip.
The onus fell to Strauss to save the day for England, and the captain duly obliged. He saw off both the reverse-swinging old ball, and the harder new one to ensure advantage remained with the hosts heading into the second day.
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo