Australia v England, 2nd Test, Adelaide, 1st day December 5, 2013

Clarke grins and bears it, again

As Australia's top-order batsmen squandered their starts, the job of ensuring a score the situation merited was once more left to Michael Clarke

Michael Clarke smiled broadly upon winning a critical Ashes toss at the new Adelaide Oval. By day's end, his face wore something more like a grimace, as Clarke was again left to shoulder the bulk of responsibility for constructing a first-innings tally worthy of the beaming grin he offered to television cameras upon seeing the coin fall in his favour.

For most of a day speckled by rain interruptions, the task of laying down a foundation for Ashes success weighed very heavily indeed on the Australians. Their most prickly opposition appeared not to be a doughty-but-flawed England - whose players dropped three catches - or an extremely dry drop-in pitch that offered slow turn, easy pace and largely even bounce.

Instead the greatest difficulties emanated from the minds of the batsmen themselves, as a history of inconsistency, and the knowledge of what was at stake, took hold of minds that had been relatively free of self-recriminating thoughts at the Gabba. No batsman, perhaps bar Steven Smith, could legitimately claim to have been bowled out by an unplayable ball or defeated before he had found his bearings.

The brittleness of Australia's batsmen left them in very real danger of doing scant justice to the conditions, and granting England an avenue back into the series after the exceptionally downcast aftermath of the Brisbane Test and Jonathan Trott's pained return home from the tour. David Warner, Shane Watson, Chris Rogers and George Bailey all made starts, but each fell by the wayside after doing the hard work, and left Clarke in his most familiar position of recent times, trying to drag the team along behind him.

"We spoke about if you get in on this wicket you've got to make it count, and that's probably the big disappointment for today," Rogers said, following his 72. "There were a lot of starts, but saying that a lot of us contributed and if we can keep going that's going to be a very competitive score."

How competitive exactly cannot be known until England bat, but the anguished reactions of each player upon losing their wicket in a manner quite avoidable told a tale as anxious as the stumps score of 5 for 273. They had hoped for better in the morning, when a cool day and regular showers could not disguise the fact that the surface was about as suitable for seam and swing as the dry strips of England had been earlier this year.

Warner had little trouble getting established, buzzing his way to 29 in a manner that allowed the more sedate Rogers to take his time. He was particularly strong through the off side, punching powerfully off front and back feet. It was this area that brought his downfall, as for the second time in the series he slashed too eagerly at something short of a length and skewered a catch to backward point.

The pitch's lack of speed relative to Brisbane had found out Warner, and it would have a similar effect on Watson. For most of his innings he showed good judgment of what to attack what to defend, but the firm-wristed drives that look so perfect when the ball is fired back down the ground can seem inflexible when a variation in pace has him through the shot early.

So it was this day, James Anderson accepting a low return catch and hurling the ball aloft while Watson wandered off regretfully. He remains a batsman almost as vulnerable between 50 and 100 as he is before scoring a run, and opposing bowlers can feel enlivened by his progression beyond the half-century mark for reasons backed up overwhelmingly by statistical evidence.

Rogers' battle against Swann has entered a new phase, after spin was the opener's major source of grief in England. Having worked thoroughly and well with Dean Jones to find more consistent scoring avenues against Swann, Rogers was able to turn the strike over here, and on one occasion knelt down to deliver a sweep shot the equal of the one that took him to his first Test century in Durham. But Swann's capacity to generate variation in turn had flummoxed Rogers in England and did so once more in Adelaide, his bat unable to resist following an off break that spun sharply, if slowly, away, after pitching on course for the stumps.

Rogers turned on his heels immediately, reproaching himself for missing the chance to go on to a hundred and, more damagingly, losing his wicket the very over after Watson. When Smith played crookedly inside Monty Panesar's stock ball before he had settled, the subsidence of three wickets for 19 had England's fielders reacting with more excitement than relief for the first time since day one at the Gabba.

On this uncertain ground, Bailey built his most sure-footed Test innings so far, showing a level of comfort with the slower, lower Adelaide that had eluded him in Brisbane. He scored more swiftly than Clarke, and did not hesitate to punch Swann down the ground when offered a little extra flight, reminding seasoned observers of some innings played on turning pitches for Tasmania against South Australia in earlier years.

But he too lost composure as the shadows grew long, hooking Stuart Broad in the general vicinity of Swann at square leg. The catch was memorable, but the score of 53 less so. Clarke thus had to play for stumps with all the trepidation of a captain knowing his side has not yet made the runs required by the situation, while at the other end Brad Haddin survived only through good fortune offered by Michael Carberry and the DRS.

Captain and deputy were relieved to reach the close with the opportunity for more runs on day two. But they did so knowing that Australia's first brush with the pressures of front-running in this Ashes series had been far from smooth. Further partnerships will be required before Clarke's smile can return.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • D on December 6, 2013, 7:37 GMT

    Was hilarious to see Cook instruct his bowlers to bowl 2 foot outside leg stump and Clarke, the superior batsman and far more inventive captain, trashing them all the same.

    Lungey - you've gone from focusing on your 'world-class' bowlers (Anderson and Swann) and our 'horrible batting lineup' to focusing on who won coin tosses.

    Not only that, you baselessly accuse Clarke of being an inferior captain to Cook despite the absolute hiding in Brisbane whereby Cook was once more shown to have nothing once his very basic plans unfold.

    Counter that with Clarke, who knew when to declare, when to up the ante, when to change bowlers and also tonned up big time.

    Clarke has always had it over Cook as a captain and batsman, it is great to see this finally reflected (for those who don't understand the game well enough to separate the quality of a team with the quality of a captain) in actual performances.

    Ponting was a torrid captain but has the highest % wins. #enoughsaid.

  • Nathan on December 6, 2013, 3:44 GMT

    @ Adam Griffin - I think the simple answer is that people link to Whinge.

    6 of Australia's top 7 batted 30(isn) plus with 5 of 7 making 50 plus with the like;lit hood of 2 making 100 plus. That's a solid performance from any batting group.

  • Dummy4 on December 6, 2013, 1:35 GMT

    @Front Foot Lunge is at it again. Even the most ardent of English supporters would concede that Clarke outperforms Cook as a captain - on the field. Cook is so unimaginative. A great batsman, possibly a good leader off the field but on the field......

  • Dummy4 on December 6, 2013, 1:18 GMT

    I don't really share the angst of fans and perhaps players alike on the failure to convert these good starts. A 50 is still 50 and if Watson, Rodgers and Bailey had all converted then Australia would be 400/3, an absurdly good position. In a game where an average of 50 is considered excellent, why is a score of 50 seen as a disappointment? Australia should comfortably reach 400 and although it's Clarke looking like the bloke to reach 100 again he is, after all, close to being the very best in the world. Some above average scores for everyone else and a century to Clarke is probably the norm for Australia these days as they climb back to being competitive at this level, I don't feel it's a habit that should be denounced.

  • Adrian on December 6, 2013, 0:04 GMT

    In Brisbane, we were told that 400 was a par score, yet it turned out that 300 was well and truly a winnable first innings score. England have gone in with the extra bowler (Stokes) so scores should be a bit lower in this match.

  • Xiong on December 5, 2013, 23:17 GMT

    @Dhanno - Even if after 3 matches it's 1-1, assuming England win in Adelaide? You really think a draw is likely in Perth, or that England will have any sort of advantage in Perth? Surely you jest.

    @FFL - You're my favourite. For some reason I always felt like personnel might affect a captain's decisions, but what would I possibly know compared to your good self.

  • Jeremy on December 5, 2013, 23:14 GMT

    @Biggus, I'm not sure if you've been keeping up-to-date on this, but it's been well documented that MARK COSGROVE shed 16kg before the shield season simply because of his desire to make the Australian team. it's also possible that he's lost more weight since then. Whilst some might say he's still a unit, I think his rapid weight loss rubbishes claims that he doesn't have the desire and that he isn't putting in the effort. As for hiding him in the field, how did TAS win the shield last year with him being such a burden? He can also bowl some handy medium pace, so at least there is also some use for him as a fielding side. Again, I see him a strong contender to replace Rogers at the end of the Ashes or to slot in for Smith or Bailey should they get dropped.

  • Nathan on December 5, 2013, 22:35 GMT

    It's not all doom and gloom for the Aussies. I'd expect that we make 350 and hopefully push to 400. Which we know is a massive total for the English against Australia.

    @ FFL Your comments imply that Cook out captained Clarke in Brisbane, please explain!

    Feeling the pressure like the English fielders are you Lungey :)

  • Bren on December 5, 2013, 22:13 GMT

    It will be a much better looking scorecard if Clarke and/or Haddin go on to make a ton. All of a sudden you will be saying "Clarkes innings formed the cornerstone and was well supported by knocks of 51, 72 and 53."

  • Dummy4 on December 5, 2013, 21:53 GMT

    I think it should be pointed out that Haddin didn't 'survive due to the DRS' - he was given not out by Erasmus. And Bailey's 53 was pretty memorable .......... especially the 3 sixes. It's evenly poised - I don't think the wicket's as good as everyone thought on the first look but the England top 5 won't throw their wicket away like the Aussies did. I'm settling in for another absorbing contest between these two sides!

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