First Day of the First Investec Test at Old Trafford: Australia have scored 303 for the loss of three wickets (Clarke 125*, Rogers 84, Smith 69*)
One of the best questions I’ve ever heard in a press conference was asked of Mark Chilton after a particularly tough three sessions at Aigburth. “This day has been hard going for Lancashire,” the journalist began, “but isn’t that why you play cricket? Isn’t it more rewarding to have a day in which you really have to work than one in which you roll over plainly inadequate opponents.” Chilton agreed with his questioner but then went on to explain his answer with characteristic intelligence.
I was reminded of that presser when watching the second day’s play of the Lord’s Test. Specifically, I thought of it when seeing Australia collapse to a hogwhimperingly inadequate 128 in their first innings on a blameless pitch. It seemed to me then that there was little chance of Australia not going 2-0 down in the series and all I devoutly hoped was that the HQ Test would not set the tone for the rest of the series. No doubt the vast majority of the Barmy Army would disagree with me vehemently and tunelessly; if so, I shall have to brave their atonal disapproval with fortitude.
What I would like to see over the next three Tests is a proper battle for the Ashes such as we enjoyed at Trent Bridge. There is little pleasure to be derived from repeated humiliation. So what was good about the first day’s play at Emirates Old Trafford was that the tourists rediscovered their powers of resistance and laid the foundations for a substantial first-innings total. They accomplished this, first through Chris Rogers, who made a fluent 84 in 114 balls, and then through Michael Clarke, whose unbeaten century reminded us that he is one of the best batsmen in the world. The Australian captain was helped by Steve Smith with whom he has so far added 174 runs; already this is a fourth-wicket record for Ashes Tests at Old Trafford.
Rogers’s innings gave me particular pleasure because I played a small part in his development. When the West Australian was about 16 he represented North Devon CC, a club against which our touring side played every year. I captained the game one year and Rogers impudently – and plainly fortuitously – hit me for three boundaries in an over. What should I do, I thought? Unveil the full range of my spinner’s art and destroy the lad’s confidence or take myself off and allow him to score a century. I opted for the latter course and the rest is history. My team-mates doubted my motives but they probably understand now.
Let us hope that the first day’s play at Old Trafford was a portent that, if the Ashes are to be retained at Old Trafford, it will happen in the teeth of Australian resistance. Rogers’s classy strokeplay in the first session - the left-hander’s innings included 14 boundaries – and Clarke’s mastery of the England attack in the second and third were proper innings in the Ashes tradition. England’s bowling was a little wayward when compared with the excellence on display at Lord’s although Clarke is the sort of batsmen who does not allow bowlers to settle into a comfortable groove if he can help it.
There should probably be a word about the pitch, too. Old Trafford’s groundsman Matt Merchant has thought about this wicket on every day this year, and this week he has been staying at the Lodge to oversee preparations and maintenance. What sort of a job is it where a man’s professional reputation is so dependant on the performance of 22 yards of turf? Well, no doubt there will be other judgements to be made on the pitch, but on the evidence of the first day it seems an excellent track. Which is to say that it offers something to batsmen and bowlers alike, providing they are prepared to put the effort in. There was seam movement for Tim Bresnan in the morning and Jimmy Anderson in an excellent spell from the Pavilion End in the afternoon. There was turn for Graeme Swann too, but nothing like enough to justify the inclusion of a second spinner. Matt Merchant might therefore be sleeping a little easier tonight; so, for that matter, may Michael Clarke. Both men deserve their rest.
Photo (c) Martin Rickett/PA Wire/Press Association Images