Siddle makes England rue missed opportunities
England 307 for 8 (Bell 72, Siddle 4-63) v Australia
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
England's batsmen squandered a glorious opportunity to take control of the fifth and final Test at The Oval, as an Australian attack lacking the services of a specialist spinner overcame a dry, dusty and pace-free wicket to chisel out eight first-day wickets after losing an important toss. Ian Bell and Andrew Strauss contributed chalk-and-cheese half-centuries to a close-of-play total of 307 for 8, while Jonathan Trott marked his Test debut with a composed 41, but once again, no single batsman was able to make the day his own. And as a series century count of 7 to 1 in Australia's favour will testify, that has been the single biggest difference between the two sides.
Nevertheless, it was far from doom and gloom for England. Though Graeme Swann fell to the final ball of the day to give Peter Siddle a richly deserved fourth wicket, his spirited eighth-wicket stand of 39 with Stuart Broad had carried England clear of an embarrassing late-evening collapse, and given them an insight into how this surface might play as the match wears on.
Siddle was the statistical pick of Australia's attack with 4 for 63 in 18.3 overs, but the most significant bowler on show was arguably the part-time offspinner, Marcus North, who found rip and bounce from the sizeable first-day footholds, and left Ricky Ponting questioning his retention of the all-seam attack that had run riot in the fourth Test at Headingley. It remains to be seen what a par score will be on this wicket, but a total of 350 may yet prove competitive.
For the first two sessions, the backbone of England's performance was Bell, whose 72 was his sixth half-century in his last eight Tests against Australia, and arguably his most significant yet, notwithstanding his dispiriting failure to push on to three figures. Five balls after tea, having begun to bat with as much composure as at any time in his 49-Test career, he propped forward to Siddle in a half-formed defensive push, and lost his off stump via a fat inside-edge.
Up until that point, Bell had been the focal point of England's batting performance, first as a target for Australia's aggression, and then later, as his confidence grew, as the main source of forward momentum. He came to the crease as early as the sixth over, when Alastair Cook's poor series continued with a prod to second slip off Siddle, and immediately the ghosts of 2005 swirled into view, as Bell came within a whisker of picking up his third Ashes duck in a row at the venue, when Siddle crashed a fifth-ball bouncer into his wrist.
But Bell survived, and even began to thrive with Siddle offering him room to work the ball off his toes into the leg-side. He was peppered three times in a searing first over from Mitchell Johnson, then snatched at a drive as Stuart Clark offered a rare hint of width and skewed a thick edge through third man for four, but to his credit, he did not buckle and raced through the 30s with a brace of fours off Ben Hilfenhaus, as the undisputed class of his strokeplay began to become the decisive factor in his performance.
At the other end, virtually unnoticed as Bell took the heat of the bowling, was Strauss, seemingly aloof to the big-match nerves, just as he had been on this ground in 2005 when he rose above the occasion to set England's platform with a first-day century. He was given a range of welcome sighters when Hilfenhaus served up his most disappointing new-ball spell of the summer, then hurtled to his third half-century of the series with three fours in an over from Siddle, including a sublime clip off the toes to reach lunch on exactly 50 not out.
But the second session had barely begun when Strauss gave his great start away, hanging a limp bat outside off to his seventh delivery after the break, and grazing a low nick through to Brad Haddin off Hilfenhaus. It later transpired that the wicket-taking delivery should have been called as a massive no-ball, but it was a rare case of batsman error in a previously blemish-free performance. Strauss departed, head bowed, for 55 from 101 balls, and England were teetering just a fraction on 114 for 2.
Out to the middle came Paul Collingwood, promoted to No. 4, the position from which he made a double-century against Australia at Adelaide in 2006-07, and the move appeared to have focussed his mind after a limp run of innings since his match-saving 74 at Cardiff. With Bell now settled, having reached his fifty with a clip for four off Hilfenhaus, Collingwood played the sheet anchor, reaching 24 from 65 balls before his weakness outside off stump once again resurfaced, as he squirted a fat edge to Mike Hussey in the gully off Siddle.
England went to tea on 180 for 3 and their platform still seemed solid enough, even though Trott came close to running himself out while searching for his maiden Test run, which he eventually managed with a clip for two through midwicket from his 12th delivery. But five balls into the final session, the casual scenario was shredded when Bell's loss of concentration gifted Australia their fourth wicket of the day, and left their hosts' fortunes in the hands of a rookie.
Trott responded with the confidence and patience befitting a man with a season's first-class average of 80. Clark in particular tested his perceived penchant for working off-stump deliveries through midwicket, but his first boundary in Test cricket was a crashing drive through the covers that Kevin Pietersen could not have bettered, and with Matt Prior counterattacking in trademark fashion during a fifth-wicket stand of 48, England looked well placed to overcome their jitters.
Johnson, however, suckered Prior on 18 with a devious slower ball that was poked airily to point, and though Andrew Flintoff received a predictably rapturous welcome in the first act of his final Test appearance, he never looked likely to continue England's momentum. A sixth-ball steer through backward point was the highlight of his innings, before Johnson's extra bounce induced a snicked cut through to the keeper.
Broad got off the mark with looping cut that yorked Ponting at slip and bounced away to the boundary, but the big breakthrough came courtesy of a stunning snaffle and shy from Simon Katich at short leg, who kept his eye on another firm clip off the pads from Trott, steadied himself as the batsman pushed off instinctively for a single, and pinged down the stumps for the most clear-cut of run-outs. It was an ignominious way for Trott's maiden Test innings to come to an end, but his 41 from 81 balls had gone a long way towards establishing his credentials.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo