So was that a good day for England? Or not? I don’t think I know the answer to that.
Suffice to say that if the whole series see-saws in a similar manner throughout the remainder of its 24 days, it’s going to be well worth keeping an eye on, even if the glamour of Gilchrist, Warne and McGrath has given way to the more prosaic skills of Haddin, Hauritz and Hilfenhaus.
On the face of it, 336 is not a bad first-day score and at 97-3 and then 240-odd for five I think most of us would have taken it. At that stage, with the tail England have, it was not beyond the bounds of conceivability that we could have capitulated to 280 all out.
But Matt Prior and Freddie batted positively and appeared to have given us the upper hand once again, before Peter Siddle got some overdue reward for some tidy bowling throughout the day.
I remember being similarly confused after the first day at Edgbaston four years ago. Admittedly England reached a swashbuckling 407 that day. Yet I was surprised that the the consensus was so unfailingly positive. Had three more wickets still be in hand I would have been happy to place myself in that camp, but they were not – and besides, there were four days left and an Australian batting order to die for waiting for the opportunity to issue its response.
OK, so this time we’re 70 runs short, but we do have capable batsmen in Broad and Swann to push us towards the magic 400.
I say magic 400, but according to Ian Chappell tonight, 360 should be enough. There’s a strange thing in the air right now, a virus almost, in fact the English virus of self-flagellation, which is reaching epidemic proportions among the visiting Australian pundits. Chappell has already criticised the make-up of his country’s team, while Jeff Thomson has slated Ricky Ponting’s captaincy. It’s almost enough to make you want this current crop of Aussies to prove them wrong.
I have to say that I don’t think we should take Chappell’s figures too seriously. Australia still have three class batsmen in Ponting – who’s already due a few, Hussey – who’s already got a few, and Michael Clarke. And surely, central to Chappell’s reasoning is the assumption that England’s bowlers will do what’s required of them. And that the pitch will, if anything, deteriorate.
Much has been said about James Anderson; too much perhaps; indeed, I must have heard it three or four times on Sky today that he is “in the form of his life”. Let’s hope it continues. But it may not. And Monty Panesar, is of course, an enormous risk. The pitch has turned, and the underrated Hauritz, and indeed Katich have got some action, if relatively slow, from it.
But it may not break up as soon as some hope and anticipate; I fear reading of pitches is still a long way from being a science, and if it is, most of our “experts” in the media have, by way of previous erroneous announcements, earned their relegation to the B stream for wicket geology.
Sky’s pitch-cam is a welcome addition, giving close-ups of every nook, cranny, crack and sample of crumbling earth, but pitches retain a mystical quality, refusing to yield all their secrets even to the supposedly initiated.
Whatever happens, the first two hours tomorrow will be essential viewing even if only to see whether anyone can match Kevin Pietersen for “most hair-brained shot of the series”.