<
>

England start well despite Cook, Root failures

James Vince leans into a drive Getty Images

England 349 for 6 (Stoneman 85, Vince 82, Malan 56, Ballance 51) v Western Australia XI
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

It didn't take long for any thought that England might ease their way into the Ashes tour to be dispelled. Just two balls into the first game, Alastair Cook had gone for a duck.

It was Cook's misfortune to receive the delivery of the day. Drawn into a tentative, indeterminate prod at a delivery angled across him from the impressive Nathan Coulter-Nile, Cook was undone by both the pace of the ball and that bounce for which Australian pitches - and Perth in particular - are known. It meant that Cook has been dismissed three times from his last four deliveries in games here following his first-ball second innings dismissal in the Ashes Test of 2013-14.

"He just played at one he shouldn't have," Coulter-Nile said. "He usually smashes me so it was good to get him."

These things happen, of course. And while the average age of this Western Australian side is just 22, Coulter-Nile is a terrific bowler who, but for injuries, could well have played Test cricket. Aged 30, he may yet. He got through 16 overs, hardly bowled a poor delivery and, at times, generated sharp pace. "The body feels surprisingly good," he said afterwards.

But if England are to have any chance in this Ashes series, it is surely vital for the experienced pair of Cook and Joe Root to score heavily. So it would have been mildly disconcerting for England to lose both cheaply here.

Root was probably unfortunate. Certainly he didn't think he had edged the ball that dismissed him - replays suggested it hit his back thigh though it was unclear whether there may have been some inside edge on it first - and he has plenty of opportunities to find form before the first Test.

Cook does, too. But he has an intriguing record in Ashes series. This will be his fourth in Australia and, while he averaged 127.66 in 2010-11, his numbers were 24.60 in 2013-14 and 27.60 in 2006-07. Only once in his three series in England has he averaged over 30, too.

Any concerns that England could be embarrassed by this young Western Australia side were allayed by a second-wicket stand of 153 between Mark Stoneman and James Vince. Stoneman, in particular, was impressive. He looked unflustered by Coulter-Nile's excellent opening spell and subsequently unveiled fluent strokes off front and back foot on the way to a 64-ball half-century.

"Obviously it wasn't Test-level bowling," Stoneman said. "And there are far tougher tests ahead. But it was good to spend some time out there. It helps you settle in to a tour and make sure you can deal with any technical or mental things you may have going on.

"We were clinical in the way we did things. You'd get a few down the leg-side and then one right on the money so you had to concentrate. We're pretty happy with that as a first day."

Vince was less convincing. He was dropped three times - on 47 and 63 he edged attempted cuts only to see Coulter-Nile, at first slip, put down the chances, while on 67 he was dropped by Kyle Gardiner at midwicket off a full-bloodied pull - and eventually flicked one to midwicket. He puts away the bad ball with a style granted to few - some of his cuts and cover drives here were simply beautiful - but it is unthinkable he will be given so many chances in an Ashes Test.

The England pair were treated to a fair few bad balls in that first session. Eight bowlers, three of them spinners, were called into the attack before lunch (by which time England had moved to 131 for 1) as a combination or nerves and inexperience produced a smorgasbord of long-hops and full tosses that raised questions as to the usefulness of this match as an exercise. It was like preparing for a fight with Wladimir Klitschko by playing Twister with Ronnie Corbett. As Coulter-Nile put it: "They faced a lot of bowling they won't in Test cricket."

They tightened up markedly after lunch. Stoneman, who had survived a tough chance in the gully off Aaron Hardie on 54, pushed at a decent ball from Lance Morris and edged to slip, while Root was given few opportunities when he came to the wicket. "Hardie was probably the only one to hit a good line and length consistently," Coulter-Nile said. "I guess they've found out what they need to do if they want to go to the next step in the game."

Perhaps the most impressive batting of the day came from Dawid Malan. Having drilled his first delivery - the first he had ever faced in Australia - through mid-off for four, he looked fluent on front and back foot and as tight outside off stump as anyone.

With Gary Ballance, his rival for the No. 5 position, he added 104 for England's fifth-wicket before both were retired to provide opportunities for other batsmen. But while Ballance was generally sound, withstanding something of a barrage from Coulter-Nile, he too gave a chance when edging to second slip on 36.

That provided just enough time for Jonny Bairstow - who looks in fine form - to come in and make an increasingly dominant 36 not out.

So, while England would have wanted Cook and Root to enjoy more time at the crease, they will have been encouraged by the fact that four less heralded members of the batting line-up made half-centuries.