I wonder how long it is since an English captain has won the toss in Australia and bowled? In the last few days, much has been said about the need for Australia to take back the initiative from their well drilled, confident opponents; to somehow turn the momentum back toward them in order to ride a tide home through Boxing Day and New Year Tests at their traditional headquarters. In the midst of that talk, Andrew Strauss wins the toss and puts the Australians in on a wicket that certainly seamed and bounced all the way to lunch.
This aggressive move was just another example of the psychological advantage which the English have established over the Australians in less than half the travelling time allocated for the series. Pumped by the inclusion of four fast men and the growing spite of a nation, suddenly the steam was vented from Australia's argument as Hughes and Watson went out to bat.
After half an hour, it was Adelaide all over again. Hughes played and missed outside off stump, edged for two through the slips and then was bowled neck and crop by England's new man, Tremlett. It was a product of atrocious footwork. Ponting played a four though the slips at catchable height through pure luck and looked in a hurry to stamp his authority. A powerful pull to mid wicket and then a delightful shot through square of his legs were vintage Ponting but it was a newer habit, playing with an angled bat away from his body which ended his stay - that and a stunning catch by Paul Collingwood, up and high to his right at third slip. Clarke came and went, again playing in the style of his batting coach captain but with a bat even further from his body and nibbling to Prior.
Watson looked as though he would see it through again but fell to an old friend, the straight ball from Finn hitting his big toe in front of off stump.
At 4-36, it was Smith who came down the race at six and along with Hussey batted until lunch in what they hope will be the start of a recovery. Hussey was his usual combination of stoic defence and timely aggression as England waited for that sharp opportunity he has previously given but it didn't come. Smith was watchful but plays often in a very chest on fashion but his eye is good.
The English were superb and backed their skipper up with accurate, probing fast bowling and with an absolute control over length. The learn quickly this mob. Their fielding is so much better than the Australians, with even their dropped catches made from nowhere, such as Strauss' valiant attempt to catch a Watson slash way over his head at first slip.
Those Ashes have never looked further away.
This Session: England
Sessions this Test: England 1, Australia 0
Session This Series: England 16, Australia 7, Shared 4
Brad Haddin led an Australian fightback during the second session and very much in the style he most prefers, with a mixture of invention and classic driving. Coming to the wicket after the experiment of batting Smith at six failed in the same way as his captain and vice captain did, Haddin and Hussey worked away at turning things around. Hussey was as good as he has been all series but predictably, was decived by a Swann delivery which bounced and turned enough to catch the edge. Prior protested the not out decision and won the truth on referral.
Johnson strode to the wicket and hit the ball and often, plastering five 4's in his 25 and one wonders how runs in this innings might provoke a bowling performance from Australia's man of moods.
Steve Finn strained a calf muscle and his figures blew out as he dropped short or bowled full tosses. After six overs he had 1-16 but Haddin, Johnson and earlier Hussey attacked his loose stuff and hus next five cost 45. Tremlett continued to be the pick of the bowlers, bowling a consistent line and length and hitting Prior's gloves the hardest. Swann was as good as we have come to expect and his contribution will further emphasise the folly of Australia not playing a spinner.
Australia added 2-114 and they win the session.
This Session: Australia
Sessions this Test: England 1, Australia 1
Session This Series: England 16, Australia 8, Shared 4
The tail continued to wag in the last session for Australia, crucially around Mitchell Johnson and perhaps unexpectedly, Peter Siddle. After recent Tests where the tail has collapsed faster than a 14 year old's excuses, it was a pleasing revelation to see last four wickets add 131. Even Hilfenhaus and Siddle could smash 35 for the last wicket. Despite this encouraging revival, four wickets were still spilled in ninety minutes and Strauss' decision to bowl was well and truly vindicated. Englishmen were dancing in the outer again.
Mitchell Johnson struck the ball well and he always looks so much more effective when he is playing shots. He was also happy to engage Anderson in some verbal which may have bought him undone and he wouldn't have been at all happy to have stirred Anderson into the big yorker which removed Harris or in pulling an erratic Finn straight to Anderson at square leg. It was good to see a bit of mongrel back in some of the Australians and if Johnson is the rallying point, so be it.
The English response was as it should be, making their way safely to stumps ready for the masacre they can fairly anticipate on the second day where the wicket will still hold bounce but their batting will relish it, especially with its South African routes. It had to survive the regulation close call for for Strauss who gloved one in Ponting's direction that he misread in the flight and watched it drop before him.
The session and the day, belonged to England but there was encouragement for Australia. Unfortunately it didn't come from the batsmen - Hussey and Haddin excepted, as always - and Test matches will rarely be won by scores made from the back end of the line up. What has been looked for is fight, spirit and determination to change the direction Australia is going and today, there were perhaps signs that some of the Australians are sick of playing like loosers.
This Session: England
Sessions this Test: England 2, Australia 1
Session This Series: England 17, Australia 8, Shared 4