Hilfenhaus finds swing, Johnson loses cool
Ben Hilfenhaus is the only Australian fast bowler to enhance his reputation on this tour and he out-shone his team-mates again on a day when England made sure they could not lose. Despite more improvement from Mitchell Johnson, who is tackling an unfamiliar situation in unfamiliar ways, it was Hilfenhaus who kept things under control until he eventually agreed to take a break. Then things went wild.
After delivering 14 overs either side of lunch for a return of 2 for 38, Hilfenhaus was rested and England immediately charged through Andrew Flintoff and Matt Prior, gaining an advantage which took the tourists out of the game. Both wickets in the first session went to Hilfenhaus as he pitched the ball up further than on Friday, and he was rewarded with teasing movement at a testing pace.
With a heavy growth on his chin and a gloomy look in his eyes, he appears more suited to logging Tasmania's forests than chopping off batsmen with sharp edges. Operating like a swing man should, he created severe doubt with most deliveries due to varied amounts of curve, mostly heading away from the right-handers. The slips were always in play, particularly when cover was left out to encourage the drive, and he continued to thrive in the English climate.
"Out here the conditions, being overcast, the ball is moving around a little bit," he said. "That helps."
Paul Collingwood was set up in a way that would have impressed any old-time seamer. He allowed Collingwood to muscle three boundaries on the offside in six balls before watching the batsman aim another drive and edge to Ricky Ponting at second slip. The smart tactic in the over before lunch allowed Australia to eat happily - Hilfenhaus' bounce and angle had already surprised Andrew Strauss into a nick behind - and England were slightly uneasy.
After the break Hilfenhaus returned to his long spell and would have bowled longer if Ponting had not devised a change in plan. "The period of the game there, he wanted me to have a rest, which I was perfectly happy with," Hilfenhaus said. "I wasn't getting any wickets so he wanted to try something else."
He had been joined in partnership before lunch by Johnson, who started to resemble the bowler last on show months ago in Australia and South Africa. The speed was sharp, short balls to Ian Bell were on target and he was moving some deliveries back into the right-hander. They were strong signs and all he was missing was a wicket.
Even the England supporters who have been jeering him throughout the game must have been pleased that he was finally able to remove Bell, whose run of near-lbw-misses ended when Rudi Koertzen eventually raised his finger. Not even Koertzen could find a reason to decline this one: it was full, in front and the ball did not go close to the bat. But this was no quick fix for Johnson or Australia.
Hilfenhaus and Johnson, who was later cleared of any issue with a hamstring, were replaced close together and England suddenly attacked Peter Siddle and Shane Watson, who gave up 40 runs in four overs to turn Australia's goal into securing a draw and starting again in Headingley on Friday. In less than an hour, with the touring bowlers giving away runs like they had at Lord's, England had a lead and the work of Hilfenhaus was wasted.
The team's most inexperienced bowler had held them together, so it was a shame to see England's tailenders attack him heavily later in the afternoon. The edge of James Anderson gave Hilfenhaus a fourth victim and he finished with 4 for 109 off 30 overs, making him easily the most economical of the pace attack.
Johnson's gains from his eight-over stint in the first and second sessions, which included some fire against Flintoff, were given up when the new ball was taken after tea. He has been many things on this tour - unreliable, unresponsive, wayward, frustrated, melancholic and picked on - and he grew angry in the afternoon, searching out batsmen who hit him for four or looked awkward against the short ball.
The grumpy Glenn McGrath act didn't work for Johnson, whose pleasant and shy demeanour is not really a match for the fast-bowling trade. Flintoff was challenged early in his innings by Johnson, who was rested too soon, and then blasted his way out of the brief trouble with a brutal 74.
Later it was Graeme Swann who was happy to walk after Johnson and argue with him along the pitch. It will take more than a couple of improved spells for Johnson to prove he is frightening again, with or without some lip. Next ball Swann glided Johnson for four and the crowd chanted: "Who are ya? Who are ya?" Johnson must wonder the same thing.
After out-smarting Swann with a slower ball that went to cover, Johnson lined up against Stuart Broad in a long exchange that was quickly followed by an ironic crowd cry of "we love you Mitchell, we do". He took off his cap off and waved it, showing he retains some space for humour.
England continued to mock his closing offerings as he went for 33 in four overs after tea. When the hosts were dismissed for 376, achieving a 113-run lead, Johnson had 2 for 91 at 4.38 an over. It felt like two steps forward before a late one back, a sensation Australia know well on this trip.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo