Cardiff: England’s decision to bat first backfired in the first session of the first Ashes test as Australia took three cheap wickets to be on top at Sophia Gardens today. England was 88-3 at lunch, having lost openers Alastair Cook (20), Adam Lyth (6) and, not surprisingly, Ian Bell (1). They could have been four down, but Joe Root, in the same over Bell was dismissed leg-before by Mitchell Starc, edged behind before he was off the mark and was dropped by flying wicketkeeper Brad Haddin.
Root was beginning to make the drop expensive by lunch. He picked off bad balls and quickly caught teammate Gary Ballance and overook him to be 33 not out, with Ballance on 28.
Their busy partnership netted 45 in eight overs, including 21 runs off the last two overs of Mitchell Johnson, their nemesis in Australia 18 months ago.
The wickets were shared by fast bowlers Starc and Jason Hazlewood, and offspinner Nathan Lyon, who was introduced in the ninth over on a pitch that was lacking any bite, but not giving the batsmen any comfort either.
Cook won the toss and had no hesitation wanting to bat first, probably because he didn’t want to bat last. Australia captain Michael Clarke said he would have batted first, too, then hoped, after the short delayed start for a shower, the conditions would remain overcast. They did.
Australia made it pay off in the second over, when Lyth played across to Hazlewood and sent an edge flying low to gully, where David Warner took a nice catch. Starc was ragged early, and Johnson, on in the fifth over, was probing. Seeing his quicks struggle with their length a little, Clarke brought in Lyon after half an hour and he was sharp.
Cook, looking to be positive, eased to 20 when they broke for drinks. It also broke his concentration, as on the second ball after drinks he cut Lyon and only top-edged behind. He’d used 40 balls and hit three boundaries.
Bell came in and returned to the pavilion in the next over. Starc got an inswinger into the bottom of Bell’s front pad and umpire Marais Erasmus lifted his finger. Since his century in the first innings of the first test in the West Indies in April, Bell has scored 11, 1, 0, 0, 1, 29, 12, 1, and 1 again.
Root should have been right behind him for a duck, but Haddin couldn’t hold the ball in his right glove and Root raced to 33 off 24 balls with Ballance on a healthy 28, after his struggles in the New Zealand series.