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Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle have led Australia's bowling in this series, but it was their other three team-mates who stole the show in an opening day battle of patience and discipline
August 9, 2013
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There is a Bannatyne's Health Club at the Durham cricket ground, overlooking the action from the north-west side of the oval. Had the boss and Dragon's Den entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne been watching from the balcony on Friday and been asked to invest in Test cricket, he'd have been skeptical. Who's going to watch a sport where 546 balls can be delivered in a day and less than a hundred of them bring scoring shots? I'm out, he might have said, for the numbers don't stack up.
The economics certainly worked for Australia on the first day at Chester-le-Street. They squeezed the life out of England's batting line-up with a display so miserly that Bannatyne himself would have looked profligate by comparison. From the moment Jackson Bird launched a full-stretch dive to cut off a Joe Root hook at fine leg early in the morning, then nonchalantly jogged in to bowl the next delivery as if nothing had happened, this felt like a day of Australian discipline.
That a few late runs were thrashed by the tail was a slight annoyance for Australia, but this was precisely the kind of day they required after the much greater frustration of being denied a victory chance by the Manchester rain. There is nothing more dispiriting than dead-cat bounce followed by a splat. Australia discovered that in Melbourne in 2010-11 when they were bowled out for 98 on Boxing Day having just won the Perth Test, and this year's Lord's Test was a similar downer.
This was a day on which, apart from David Warner missing a run-out chance, opportunities were taken. It was a day on which Australia made the DRS work for them. But the genesis of it all was their consistent tight bowling, the dots and maidens that piled up, dulling the attention of Durham spectators witnessing their first Ashes Test, but piquing the interest of Australian fans hoping for a strong series finish.
If there was one dismissal that epitomised the day it was that of Jonny Bairstow. For 41 consecutive deliveries he failed to winkle a run, rusted on to his score of 12 for more than an hour. He broke through with a cover-drive for two off Nathan Lyon and two balls later tried even harder to be positive but was lbw attempting to sweep an accurate Lyon delivery from around the wicket. Lyon's around-the-wicket line made batsmen play all day.
At times his natural drift almost turned him into a legspinner, as deliveries slid across the right-handers and kept going on with the angle. It was that approach that drew Kevin Pietersen's edge. Pietersen and Jonathan Trott were the only England batsmen to show any real intent but even they had to fight hard for their runs, gifted few bad balls by an attack that made use of the slow surface.
The absence of Mitchell Starc was a subject of debate in the morning, for his reverse swing at Old Trafford had posed a serious challenge to England. But he also released the pressure far too often with loose deliveries and his replacement, Bird, was naggingly accurate and, until a less-threatening late-afternoon spell that hovered around 130kph, difficult to get away.
Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle, the first bowlers picked on this trip when fit, in fact leaked the most runs early as the sluggish pitch offered them no assistance. Again, Shane Watson was the most economical. In this series he has not so much compiled dots as ellipses and six maidens from 13 overs on the first day at Chester-le-Street continued his trend. Watson has bowled 74 overs in this series and half have been maidens.
"I am actually trying to take wickets," Watson said in the lead-up to this match, when his series tally stood at 1 for 114 at 1.86 runs per over. "I am trying to take wickets by being patient but also trying to work the batsman over. One of the outcomes is to keep it really tight but the reason you play is to get wickets."
Watson added one wicket to his tally on the first day of this Test, drawing Root out to defend and enticing a faint tickle behind. Watson's length makes him an awkward customer and he finds just enough movement to make batsmen nervous about driving. If Watson the batsman faced Watson the bowler, the bowler would come out on top. And Watson's Test future may well rely on his consistent work with the ball.
Here, he is likely to come in at No.6, continuing his sightseeing tour of the Test batting order. If he does bat there, Watson will have occupied every position from one to six over the past year of Test cricket. Five months ago he was exploring life as a non-bowling batsman, now he is content with his likely new role as bowling workhorse and middle-order man. He needs to be happy with it, because that's what Australia need from him.
Watson will be replaced at the top of the order by Warner when Australia bat on the second day of this match. The lack of pace in the pitch won't make things easy for Warner and Australia's batsmen must balance patience with scoring intent, as Trott did for England. Such balance has not been a batting strength of Australia in recent years.
The first day in Durham belonged to the relentless Australian attack. It is now up to the batsmen to match their discipline.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
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