It was, from the very beginning of play, almost anti-climactic. In the first over of the day, in a moment of light comedy and bemusement, a delivery from James Anderson got lodged in the back of Chris Rogers' jumper, a triviality to kick-start a match of unparalleled hype and expectation.
Then throughout the morning, whenever the day’s play threatened to come alive, the rains would come, halting proceedings—lending perspective to excitement that had built following a fortnight of innuendo and insinuation.
But then again, as soon as Michael Clarke won the toss and elected to bat, the true pivot point of this Test was always going to be delayed. For regardless of what Australia score in the first innings—and at 273-5 it may not be an enormous total—England’s faltering batsmen will need to perform against Australia’s rejuvenated bowlers.
While confidence can largely be placed in England’s bowlers to at least not have an appalling day, the same cannot be said for the batsmen who are now establishing somewhat of a reputation for under-par totals and sudden collapses—amazing when you consider the wealth of runs and experience the order boasts.
So while of course every day is important, some days are more important than others, and those with England batting are now very such days.
When England do bat, it will certainly be challenging. This pitch, although flat and slow, is very dry and will become dusty sooner than normal. The pace and fire of Mitchell Johnson, all the rage prior to the start of the match, may not prove the biggest challenge.
Instead, it will be the spin of the reinvigorated Nathan Lyon and all-rounder Steven Smith. Chris Rogers, speaking at the close of play, said the pitch played much like a third day pitch, and he felt the draw is an unlikely result.
On the first day, England’s selection of two spinners, Monty Panesar to go alongside Graeme Swann, proved prescient, as an alarming turn was extracted especially in the final session.
It was a strange day that never really got going of ebbs, flows, twists and turns. At 155-1 Australia had the opportunity to push well into the ascendancy having won the toss and thus got the best of an already wearing pitch.
However, after Shane Watson’s demise to a superb reflex caught and bowled by James Anderson, a mini-collapse ensued, and Australia headed into the tea break 174-4. Rogers had fallen to Swann for a typically gritty 72, while Smith’s outside edge was beaten and his stumps disturbed, by a wonderfully flighted, looping ball from the jubilant Panesar.
The final session was one of suggestive allure for the challenges to come. England bowled well, without making more than the one breakthrough—Swann pouching a jaw-dropping catch from a mistimed George Bailey hook shot off the bowling of Stuart Broad, who bowled probingly throughout the day. It was the turn and bounce of the final session that was most intriguing however.
While many have said such arid conditions will suit England more, which evidence suggests they will do, it is worth noting the difficulty of out-of-form batsmen to play themselves into form on pitches such as these. There is little pace, and low bounce, and the turn will only complicate the already challenging issue of timing the ball.
But of course, before England bat, they must wrap up Australia’s innings. Taking tail-end wickets has in fact been as much a problem for England as their batting of late, and in that regard, tomorrow’s play assumes even greater importance.