<
>

Malan leads the way for England in sluggish contest

Mark Stoneman had an awkward miss Getty Images

England 278 for 8 (Malan 63, Stoneman 61, Fallins 4-71) v Cricket Australia XI
Live scorecard and ball-by-ball details

There is always talk ahead of an Ashes tour about the hostility England will face in Australia: the quick pitches, aggressive fast bowlers and rowdy crowds.

But, on the opening day of first-class cricket on this tour, England had quite a different experience. They were confronted with a desperately slow surface, an attack containing three medium-fast seamers (and three men with one first-class wicket between them) and a 'crowd' - it was more of a 'sparse' really - that watched in polite interest. It was not so much 'welcome to hell' as 'welcome to tea; would you like some slippers?'

As England resumed after tea against a seamer who bowled at the pace of Paul Collingwood and a legspinner whose main variation was the delivery that hit the pitch, the thought occurred: might England have gained as much benefit from the day had they visited one of the local vineyards? Conditions - or the opposition - bore no relation to those anticipated at The Gabba in a couple of weeks. Or, indeed, here a week later.

That may, or may not, have been the point, of course. And there's no mileage in complaining about it, anyway. Most of the best players in Australia are involved in Shield action - one round of games finished on Tuesday, another starts on Saturday - and, besides, it is these days considered a legitimate tactic - in England as much as anywhere - to make life a bit tricky for the tourists in these situations. As Trevor Bayliss admitted the previous day, Australia are likely to be presented with county second-string sides on their tours to the UK these days. It's just the way of the world.

Yet, for all that, England failed to take advantage. Four of the top-order had gone before the lights came on (during the second break) and Jonny Bairstow departed at the start of the third session. As a result, only Dawid Malan of the specialist batsmen can really be said to have gained any experience of batting under lights against the pink, kookaburra ball.

And, in the last 10 overs, England will have learned a thing or two. They will have seen Jack Coleman, a tall left-handed seamer who bowls perhaps 10mph slower than Mitchell Starc, nip the second new ball around under lights in dangerous fashion. And they will have noted the loss of three wickets for seven runs just before stumps. The conclusion? Starc and co, in such conditions, may prove highly demanding.

There were, at least, runs for Mark Stoneman, Joe Root and Malan. Stoneman was dropped on 17 - Tim Paine unable to cling on to a top-edged cut off the bowling of the accurate but sedate Gurinder Sandhu - and struggled to progress on the sluggish surface and even more sluggish outfield. But he persevered and was looking comfortable when he thrashed a full toss to mid-wicket where Jake Carder took an exceptional catch.

Root, too, was made to work hard. But having dabbed and nudged his way to a half-century - it contained only three fours - he, too, gave it away with a top-edged slog-sweep off another flighted ball that preyed on his frustration and drew the impatient stroke.

Later, for the second game in succession, Malan produced the most fluent batting of the day for England. While he faced little searching bowling until the Cricket Australia XI took the second new ball - by which time he had almost reached 50 - he looked as composed and secure as anyone and, with his stance a little more open than when he made his Test debut, appeared more fluent in attack.

But Alastair Cook failed again. And while he might feel somewhat unfortunate to have received another decent delivery - he was drawn into feeling for one just outside off stump that may have left him a fraction - it was the sort of ball Test openers receive quite often.

James Vince may feel he missed out, too. He was hit on the shoulder by a well-directed short ball from Coleman before he had scored and did not get off the mark until his 11th delivery. From then on, though, he looked in fine touch producing a lovely back-foot force and several fluid drives. To fall, as he did, missing a slog-sweep against a full toss, seemed something of a waste.

Later Bairstow also missed out as he attempted to cut a quicker one - the uncharitable description of the delivery would be a long-hop - but could only feather an edge to the keeper.

The main beneficiary of England's profligacy was Daniel Fallins. Fallins, a 21-year-old legspinner on first-class debut who plays for Sutherland in NSW (the same club as Shane Watson and Steve Waugh's son, Austin), has won praise from Greg Chappell in the past for the sharp spin he gives the ball. And it is true, there were a few fine deliveries that turned sharply and hinted at real promise.

In between times, however, there were an uncomfortably large number of full tosses and a fair few long-hops. Both Stoneman and Vince succumbed to such deliveries and both Root and Bairstow may reflect their dismissals were more like Mike Atherton's maiden Test wicket - Dilip Vengsarkar thrashing a full toss back at him - than Shane Warne's ball of the century. Maybe it was fitting than an anagram of the bowler's name - Daniel G Fallins -is England Fails. Well, very nearly, anyway.

Coleman also enjoyed a good day. A tall, strong left-armer who was making his first-class debut just a few weeks before his 26th birthday having spent a few years pursuing a career in Aussie Rules football, he drew the edge from Cook with a well-directed delivery with the first new ball and ended Chris Woakes' dogged resistance with another good one angled across the batsmen with the second one. The wicket of Malan, attempting to steer one through point from the final delivery of the day, might be considered a deserved bonus.

There was better news off the pitch for England. While Steven Finn returned to the UK, Moeen Ali returned to the nets where he batted twice. Tom Curran, meanwhile, will join up with the squad in Adelaide on Friday.