Collingwood shines on dreary day
Victoria 2 for 216 dec and 6 for 278 (Carters 68, McKay 58*, Collingwood 3-19) lead England XI 2 for 184 dec (Strauss 66, Bell 60*) by 310 runs
Paul Collingwood enlivened an insufferably dull day of cricket with three wickets in five overs, before Andrew Strauss scalped the first-innings centurion, Michael Hill, for 4 with his rarely seen left-arm chinaman bowling, as England's pace bowlers aborted their attempts to impress the selectors ahead of the Perth Test, and left Monty Panesar and the declaration bowlers to get through their day's work on a dreadfully slow pitch.
By the close, Victoria had reached 2 for 278 in their second innings, a lead of 310 following England's lunchtime declaration on 2 for 184. With Chris Tremlett, Ajmal Shahzad and Tim Bresnan thwarted by the conditions, the only wicket to fall in the afternoon session was Aaron Finch, who set Victoria's tempo with 45 from 74 balls, before miscuing a lofted drive at Panesar and holing out to mid-off.
Thereafter, England were held up by a pair of debutants, the 20-year-old Ryan Carters, who made 68, and the 18-year-old Alex Keath, who turned his back on an AFL contract with Gold Coast to concentrate on a career in cricket. He started uncertainly as Bresnan and Shahzad probed his defences with a hint of reverse swing, but grew in confidence as the afternoon wore on and the sting went out of England's efforts.
It was left to Collingwood's offcutters to make England's long-awaited breakthrough, as Carters stepped across his stumps to be bowled behind his legs, and two overs later he added a second courtesy of a smart one-handed catch by Alastair Cook at silly mid-off, as Matthew Wade drove airily back down the ground. Cook had been off the field apparently nursing a sore back, but his mobility seemed not in the slightest bit impaired.
Panesar, who had bowled tidily but without assistance from the pitch, then added a second as John Hastings swung across the line and top-edged a sweep to Collingwood, running round from slip, who then denied Keath a fifty on debut with a slow, ballooning bouncer that was scuffed through to the keeper. The session then degenerated into farce with the introduction of Strauss and Eoin Morgan, who has yet to bat on this tour, but has now bowled three overs for 37.
The highlight of England's day, however, was Strauss's third first-class victim, as Hill was adjudged lbw, a touch unluckily it appeared, to a back-of-the-hand delivery that appeared to pitch outside the line of leg stump. Either way, he joined elite company, with Kevin Pietersen and Stephen Fleming the only two other batsmen to succumb to his assortment of long-hops. It was left to Jayde Herrick and Clint McKay to climb into the offerings, with Strauss conceding 51 runs in four overs, and McKay posting 58 not out, his highest first-class score.
"We want to make a competitive game tomorrow, so in order for that to happen we had to allow Victoria to get enough runs to make it competitive tomorrow," explained Ian Bell at the close of play. "That was really the idea behind it."
In the morning session, England's batsmen continued where they had left off in the Brisbane and Adelaide Tests, with Strauss making a boundary-laden 66, and Bell unbeaten at lunch on 60, his fifth consecutive fifty-plus score of the tour.
Strauss, who resumed on 17 not out, offered a chance on 40 when he snicked Herrick to Cameron White at first slip, who shelled a regulation catch, but was otherwise watertight as he brought up his fifty from 79 balls with a sweep off the left-arm spinner Jon Holland. It was Holland who ended his stay via a chip to midwicket.
By that stage, however, Bell was fully into his stride, and he posted his fifty with a sweetly timed cover drive off Hastings. Collingwood, whose opportunities on the tour to date have been limited, cracked Holland for a big six into the Members' stand to go to the interval on 29 not out, as England moved to within 32 runs of Victoria's first-innings 2 for 216 before declaring.
Despite the unhelpful nature of the wicket, Bell reckoned that England would be more than content with the work-out that their bowlers had got, especially with the prospect of a livelier surface at the WACA next week.
"It's always nice to get a couple of wickets, but I think it's been a hard wicket for the bowlers," said Bell. "Let's be fair, it's so slow out there, but they've toiled away and it's reverse swung, which is good to see because those sorts of skills which might come in at some point at the WACA.
"They've worked hard, and to be honest with you, it's great going into Perth that all three of them had a good work-out in batting friendly conditions. It's much better that than a green seamer where they've all taken five-for and bowled a couple of good balls but a couple of bad balls as well. They've generally gone at two an over all game and that's exactly what we want going into a Test match."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.