Ashes Cricket News 02/01/03
Report By Jon Cocks
The opening Test match of the New Year calendar saw England hold sway for the majority of it, facing an Australian attack missing both McGrath and Warne for the first time in over ten years. It could be that all the Englishmen took heart from the absence of these two champions, who boast nearly 900 Test wickets between them. However, it was century-maker Mark Butcher, to whom the day ultimately belonged, despite the Australians fighting back with three wickets in the final session to finish the day all square with the tourists.
On a perfect Sydney morning, Hussain won the toss and elected to bat on a wicket that appeared offer something for the quicks, but showed a few fine cracks before play. Hogg was made twelfth man for Australia, with Tudor the drinks waiter for England. Stewart returned in place of Foster to bat at seven, with Hoggard coming in for the injured White. Andy Bichel and Stuart MacGill received the ultimate opportunity – the chance to see how well they could substitute for McGrath – out with a side strain, missing his first Test in 54 since 1998 – and Warne.
79 runs, two wickets and two dropped catches in the first session of the Test provided the full house at Sydney with plenty of entertainment. The pitch played well for batsmen, but MacGill was able to extract some turn and there was an outswing-favouring breeze from Third Man that blew across the pitch down to Long On at the Members' End.
Lee captured the prize wicket of Michael Vaughan (0) with the first ball of his second over. Mark Butcher (42*), led from the front, after Brett Lee swung the first ball he faced into his pads and the loud appeal for LBW was disallowed and he had to jam down late on a searing yorker two balls later.
Superb outswing bowling with the new ball confirmed Lee's willingness to stand up as an opening bowler in place of McGrath. Gillespie (six overs for 14) led the attack well, pushing the ball across Trescothick, beating both batsmen and allowing them very little room to move, other than a slash over point by Trescothick to the rope.
Andy Bichel came into the attack and immediately after drinks he removed Trescothick (19), with Gilchrist hurling himself to his left to hook in a blinder of a catch with his left glove, England slipping to 2-32. Bichel almost broke through again in his next over, with Martyn - at third slip - putting down a very difficult chance to his left.
The Barmy Army found voice, as Bichel went for twelve in the over after the one in which the umpire allowed him only five deliveries. Hussain and MacGill (6-1-22-0) were locked in intense battle, as MacGill's flight and loop tempted and tested the England captain. The low point came when MacGill dropped Hussain from the easiest return catch imaginable and had to suffer at the end of the over when Butcher slapped a short one to the mid wicket boundary.
Lee returned to replace Bichel (6-2-21-1), testing Hussain, drawing a thick outside edge for a boundary and striking Butcher on the pad, an event that surprisingly didn't draw much of an appeal, despite Hawkeye's evidence that it was a near thing for the batsman. Hussain went to lunch a relieved man, as Lee caught his bat high in his last over, with the ball looping just over point.
England grafted 71 from the second session, without losing a wicket. Butcher (67*) was fortunate not to be taken when on 43 by Gilchrist from the perennially unlucky Gillespie, while Hussain played and missed to the pacemen, being sorely tested by Lee in the last over before the break.
Butcher squirted MacGill around the corner to bring up his fifty, as runs were at a premium in the first hour after lunch. The legspinner, in tandem with Gillespie, conceded just 25, while manufacturing one genuine chance and making both batsmen struggle for extended periods.
Nevertheless, 2.5 an over without losing a wicket is more than an acceptable outcome. MacGill had five men on the on side, coming around the wicket to the left-handed Butcher, for whom the exercise became one in which he struggled to find gaps through which to score.
Just before drinks, Lee replaced Gillespie (13-4-26-0) and the batsmen celebrated the rare opportunity to hit three looser balls in a row. Lee (15-4-44-1) signalled his displeasure but increasing his pace and shortening his length to have Butcher hopping in the crease. Andy Bichel (10-3-36-1) took over from MacGill (18-4-42-0), with Hussain pulling him for a boundary over Square Leg and edging him to Third Man to bring up his fifty.
The batsmen continued their circumspect work until tea, their partnership unbroken at 118. Hussain appeared to have abandoned the sweep that was so risky for him earlier in the series, as MacGill came back for another short spell before the break and Lee bowled a fast and furious over - the 56th and final for the session - that nearly removed Hussain twice. A 155.9 kph attempted yorker struck the England captain on the back pad and almost cannoned into the off stump.
England resumed after tea with all guns blazing, scoring at a run-a-ball for close to half an hour, until Australia wrested the advantage back slightly in the final session, removing Hussain (75), Key (3) and centurion Butcher (124). Then, Alec Stewart's quickfire 20* in thirteen balls evened out matters by stumps. England lost 3-114 during the final two hours.
The Barmy Army found full voice after tea, as Butcher raced towards his century and a Bichel over went for three boundaries. The England Number Three, when on 97, was fortunate, however, when Umpire Orchard didn't see his thick edge into the pad that rebounded to Hayden at silly point from the persistent but unfortunate MacGill.
Shortly afterwards, Gillespie - in the midst of a short, probing spell - pitched one perfectly and caught Hussain's glove on the way through to Gilchrist to end the 166-run partnership for the third wicket. Butcher continued to press for three figures and achieved the milestone, his sixth Test century and second only outside England, when he worked MacGill into the on side for one.
The run-rate slowed to a trickle after the departure of Hussain, as Key looked to settle in. Steve Waugh rotated his bowlers in short spells in the leadup to taking the new ball and decided to bowl himself. Robert Key , his guard perhaps down a little, shuffled across his crease to be trapped in front and the captain had snared his second test wicket in four years.
MacGill (31-5-81-0) continued to toss up on a good line without luck, as he beat Crawley and the keeper with one that turned and bounced and went for byes. Waugh (4-3-2-1) decided to keep himself and MacGill on for one more each, before taking the new ball after 82 overs.
Gillespie (21-7-48-1) bowled beautifully, but it was Lee (20-5-66-2), who found Butcher's inside edge to rattle the timber, ending a fighting century that had given England such heart today. The tourists had lost 3-42, as Stewart came to the wicket.
With the very next ball of the match, Gillespie beat Crawley (6*) pointlessly with a perfectly pitched, good-length delivery, finding a point on the batsman's lower forearm awfully close to the glove. The ball ballooned to gully, but the massive Australian appeal was turned down.
Australia had its nose in front for the first time, but Stewart turned his first ball from Lee for a boundary behind square leg. Hooking and driving fearlessly, the veteran England batsman-keeper plundered three fours from the final over to finely balance the fortunes of both teams, after an absorbing first day's play.