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

England fail to grasp advantage

On a day littered with self-inflicted mistakes, England dropped three catches and missed the opportunity to gain anything more than a foothold in the match

If England fail to retain the Ashes, they may well reflect on the first day of this match and conclude it was the moment they let a golden opportunity slip through their hands.

Or perhaps that should be three moments. For, on a day full of self-inflicted injury from both sides, it was England's three dropped chances that could prove most costly. Had even one of them been taken, they would be in the dominant position in this match.

The frustrating aspect from England's perspective is that they did so much right. For the second time in three Tests, England picked two specialist spinners and a young allrounder to bolster the middle-order batting and the seam bowling. For a side that have often seemed reluctant to stray from their tried and tested formula, it was a brave decision.

It had not worked on the previous occasion, at The Oval in August. Simon Kerrigan endured a tough start to his Test career and Chris Woakes lacked the penetration required for a third seamer. And, when England lost the toss here, they must have cursed their fortune.

It was the correct decision, though. On an unusually dry pitch, England reasoned not only that the wicket would offer some assistance to spinners and reverse-swinging seamers, but that the control offered by Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar would exploit Australia's greatest weakness.

That weakness? Their overwhelming desire for revenge and their determination - their desperation, even - to attack England at every opportunity. So often has Darren Lehmann reiterated the desire to play attacking cricket, that any period of scorelessness is seen as a failure.

It worked, too. With Panesar conceding only two an over for much of the day - a modest post-tea spell proved more expensive - and Swann little more, England had support for the reliable James Anderson and Stuart Broad.

That led to mounting frustration for the Australia batsmen and probably contributed to the attacking strokes that led to the downfall of David Warner, Shane Watson and George Bailey.

It should have been better for England, though. Had Panesar held a relatively straightforward return chance offered by Bailey on 10, Australia would have been 5 for 190 and have lost 4 for 45. Michael Clarke survived a tougher chance to Joe Root when he had 18 and Brad Haddin a much easier one to Michael Carberry when he had 5. To drop one catch might be considered unfortunate, but to drop three, as Oscar Wilde so almost said, makes it very hard to win Test matches.

For much of the first day, though, it seemed each nation was trying to outdo the other for self harm. Quite apart from that tweet sent by Cricket Australia, England were also presented with the sort of pitch that Andy Flower might have ordered in his dreams and some soft wickets that may prove crucial.

Australians can be a hospitable bunch. After seeing England struggle amid the pace of Brisbane, they prepared a pitch for this game that was strikingly similar to those on which the Ashes series in England was contested: dry, slow and likely to offer little encouragement to Mitchell Johnson and co. Had the same track been produced in England, there would have been cries of 'doctoring'.

It looked full of runs for the first couple of hours. Indeed, Chris Rogers admitted Australia thought a total of 500 was in order. But, after the introduction of the spinners, such predictions were downgraded sharply. Swann later reasoned that England needed to "keep Australia below" 350 if they were to remain in the game. More pertinently, England will then have to build a total far in excess of that and then see their bowlers exploit conditions that are likely to deteriorate markedly as the game progresses. Batting fourth could prove difficult.

"We are disappointed, but we are not angry," Swann said afterwards. "That's cricket. You do drop catches. We've fielded exceptionally well so far and taken some belters. It's just a shame today was the day that a couple went down."

Panesar last played for England in March. His troubles since then have been well documented and it is, in some ways, remarkable to see him back in international cricket so soon. It is not so long ago he was dropped, then suspended and then released by his county, Sussex.

And while he was not at his best - he dropped short more often than he would have liked and seemed to struggle to maintain the pressure as the day wore on - he did the job he was asked to do and was rewarded with the wicket of Steven Smith, who played a decent ball poorly.

"Monty's Monty," Swann said. "He's always been a bit leftfield and a bit different to everyone else and that's one of the reasons we love him so much. We don't care what's happened in the last 12 months off the field: he's one of the boys and we embrace him as ever. We love seeing him do well.

"I thought his bowling was excellent. It's never easy coming back in to a team because a lot of the spotlight goes on you. But I thought he applied himself really well. He did the job we wanted him to do and that's all he ever does."

The same might be said about England's bowling attack. Over the last couple of years they have masked faults in the batting line-up time after time. Once again, despite some fallibility from the fielders, they have earned England a foothold in this game. If England's batsman can, at last, find some form, there is a way back into this series.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Nicholas on December 6, 2013, 7:53 GMT

    Well George - looks like you were right... Not only did BOTH Clarke and Haddin make England pay for those drops, but they allowed Harris to rack up a 50 as well. So they managed neither of what was needed to push into any sort of advantage.

  • Neil on December 6, 2013, 7:19 GMT

    Their nos 10 and 11 smash it around the park and when we bat we struggle like a junior XI vs the best of the World XI. Root is 8 from 50 balls. Cook was totally useless. When will they learn to man up and counter attack?

    It's a disgraceful performance yet again.

  • Jeff on December 6, 2013, 5:12 GMT

    @Buggsy ... The Australian batsmen have setup another victory, so maybe you are watching a reply of the last series (where Aus were crap and handed victory to the average English team). This series has seen 4 Australian centuries and 6 half centuries in the 3 innings, not too bad for what you describe as lousy. Hope you enjoy the rest of this game and the series, I'm loving it.

  • Nick on December 6, 2013, 1:40 GMT

    I noticed whilst watching that one of the English fielders was wearing a little bandage/protector on his hand that appeared to be made of silicone rubber mesh matting. This is commonly used as a non skid in the cupboards of boats and caravans because of its "sticky" properties. Surely this is an aid to catching a cricket ball and is against the spirit of the game. I'd be interested to know what other reason there would be to use this particular material rather than just bandage.

  • Neil on December 6, 2013, 1:17 GMT

    I'm rapidly losing patience with this England team. More spineless bowling from Anderson - low 130s speed. Swann totally ineffective. Very poor fielding - dropped catches from Carberry (day 1), a miss from Panesar (Haddin top edge, day 2), Bell at short leg (day 2). Dreadful batting. The signs have been there - his has been going on for some time now.

    It's not that they're unlucky. It's weak, poor and unacceptable cricket. Hate to say it, but I'm moving to the Aus convincing series win camp and for me, heads needs to roll. Starting at the top with Flower and Gooch.

  • Tom on December 5, 2013, 23:09 GMT

    England shaded the day's play but they still have it all to do. With 2 form batsmen and a useful tail Australia are handily placed to kick on towards 400. Having lost a crucial toss England will have to bat once and long to win this. That with a wobbly lineup further weakened by Trott's absence, against a skillful and playful bowling attack. Still, England are bounce back specialists, the surface suits England and Australia's batting is just as fallible.

  • Peter on December 5, 2013, 22:36 GMT

    @Beertjie. Still not sure what to make of this pitch. It isn't a real batting track like the old days as the ball does hold up, yet some offer more bounce (extra bounce did both Rogers & Watson). There is all type of conjecture on how this pitch will last, but definitely not a road as such, there is plenty of grass covering. Agree that England took a good option with both spinners as they should bowl a lot of overs & give relief to Anderson & Broad. I am worried about bowling last then having to back up 3 days later & having to bowl first.

  • Nathan on December 5, 2013, 22:07 GMT

    Australia's intent to attack and their drive to win the ashes is their strength not their weakness. It's obviously putting pressure on their fields men!! Carberry's drop was a shocker, even Monty would have caught that.

    And the score board is 5/273 against an English lineup which has struggled to bat over 400 for some time and is bolstered by unproven players. Maybe this game won't be a draw!!!

  • Luke on December 5, 2013, 21:45 GMT

    Have to agree, yesterday was some real lousy cricket by both teams, more so from Australia's rubbish top order.

  • Mashuq on December 5, 2013, 20:45 GMT

    @valvolux on (December 5, 2013, 14:31 GMT), Harris is as good as anyone at getting reverse so let's just see how it unfolds. If Carbs' drop proves expensive, England will be under the pump, but I like the team they picked. Bresnan was surely not ready yet, so Stokes had to play. Adelaide may yet surprise many of us, as so often in the past.

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