England v Australia, 3rd Investec Test, Old Trafford, 1st day August 1, 2013

England endure middling first day

It would be wrong to presume England suffered too bad a day, they bowled well for much of it as they came up against a batting line-up less obliging and feeble

There will be those who look at the scoreboard from the first day of this game and presume it was the moment the Investec Ashes series turned.

It is true that Australia, batting with a skill and resilience that has been absent from much of this series to date, took full advantage of winning the toss on a fine pitch and an increasingly clear blue sky. It is true that, on a surface which is expected to provide more assistance for spin bowlers as the game progresses, they have established a fine platform that could define the game.

And it true, too, that there was a time, with the sun beating down, Stuart Broad off the pitch for treatment on his calf and Graeme Swann taking painkillers for a sore throat, when the flaws in England's strategy were apparent and they appeared devoid of ideas in the field. A four-man attack has served England well, but it is an approach that will always leave them just a little vulnerable in case of injury, illness or on the flattest of pitches.

But it would be wrong to read too much into this scoreline and it would be wrong to presume England endured too bad a day. On an excellent batting surface, Australia's best batsman complied an impressive century and won good support from two colleagues. It was, by some distance, Australia's best day of the series to date but, as Tim Bresnan put it: "I'm sure we would be in a similar position if we'd won the toss and batted. They've won the toss on a nice wicket with the sun out."

England actually bowled pretty well for much of the day. Swann, gaining surprising turn on a first day wicket, probably bowled better than at any time in the series, while Bresnan beat the outside edge on several occasions and Broad again bowled well without fortune. England might claim, with more than a little justification, some misfortune with at least three umpiring decisions, though they would have to admit an enormous slice of fortune with the wicket of Usman Khawaja.

Most of all, England came up against a highly motivated Michael Clarke who provided a master-class in the art of batting against spin bowling. It is no disgrace to come second best in such circumstances.

But this was not, by any means, a perfect performance from England. In searching for swing, the seamers were guilty of overpitching to Chris Rogers, in particular, while James Anderson, by his own high standards, was not at his best and conceded an uncharacteristic 13 fours in his 21 overs. In all England conceded 40 boundaries in the day's 90 overs, more than would leave them comfortable.

It wasn't that they bowled worse than they had at Lord's or Old Trafford. It was more that they came up against a batting line-up less obliging and feeble. As a consequence, there were times they looked a little flat and a little toothless.

But that has happened before. Usually, in such circumstances, England "bowl dry" - their expression for cutting off the batsmen's run-scoring options - and wear their opposition down with persistence and pressure. It was just that on this occasion they lacked the consistency to limit the run-scoring or build any pressure in quite the way they would have liked.

Might a second spinner or extra seamer have helped? Of course. The extra bounce of Chris Tremlett or the variety of Monty Panesar might well have provided an edge the attack lacked through much of the day.

But England's policy of playing six specialist batsmen and Matt Prior at No. 7 has served them well and may yet prove vital in this game. Until they are able to select a Test quality allrounder - in due course, perhaps, Ben Stokes - they will have days when the tactic is slightly exposed.

Both sides suffered with poor umpiring decisions during the day. While some may claim that the errors evened themselves out, such a laissez-faire attitude does not sit comfortably in the modern, professional game. Not only can individual's careers be defined by such moments - Khawaja was the victim of a particularly feeble piece of work from a TV umpire whose reputation has been ruined by this series - but it brings too strong an element of chaos and chance into a meritocratic contest. A strong argument could be made to suggest the ICC should not be appointing neutral umpires, but simply the best.

But England would be wise not hide behind such issues. While they may well have a point in claiming that Steve Smith, who could have been out half-a-dozen times before he reached 30, should have been given out caught behind off Anderson when on 18 and the subsequent loss of a review saw them denied the chance to overrule a clear leg before decision that went against them off the bowling of Broad when Smith had 24, they might also reflect that they have had the best of such decisions in the series to date. The truth is that both sides have suffered through poor umpiring.

They would also be wise not to hide behind some problems with the footholds. Broad and Anderson, in particular, were inconvenienced by the crater created on the popping crease by their front feet. While the pitch is hard, the landing area is surprisingly soft and has crumbled under impact, leaving the ground uneven and uncomfortable

But these things happen. Coping with them is part of the lot of professional bowlers and, as Bresnan suggested, "you've just got to adjust. You've got to come in front of it or wide of it or whatever. It plays around with your rhythm a bit, but you have to use your experience and try not to land in that massive hole that someone else has created. It doesn't affect you that much."

The best players don't search for excuses, they search for answers. And, as was the case at times in India, there were times when Broad seemed a little more preoccupied with the former than the latter.

Bresnan was content with England's bowling performance and credited Clarke, in particular, for Australia's success. "He played well," Bresnan said. "He's left the ball well. He's identified that it's a batting day - it's not done a lot out there - and he's got stuck in. The conditions were pretty good for batting.

"But we're quite pleased with the way we stuck in there. It's not like we didn't create chances. We passed the outside edge frequently and, on another day, those might have been nicks. Had the luck been with us, the plays and misses that we did get could have taken the outside edge and they could be six down.

"We were expecting a fight. Every time you play against Australia you expect them to fight hard. Their backs are against the wall so why wouldn't they push even harder back."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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