BRISBANE: Australia fought back with two late wickets to restrict England to 196 for four and leave the Ashes series-opener delicately poised on Thursday after the tourists’ unheralded batsmen threatened to dominate an intriguing but rain-affected first day.
Ashes debutants Mark Stoneman and James Vince had frustrated Australia’s vaunted pace attack with a 125-run partnership on a surprisingly slow Gabba wicket but seamer Pat Cummins hauled the home side back into the game.
The young paceman broke the stand by bowling Stoneman for 53 in the last over before tea, then returned to capture England captain Joe Root lbw for 15 in the final session.
In between, off-spinner Nathan Lyon denied Vince a potentially career-defining century with a brilliant piece of fielding from point, running him out for 83 after the batsman had put in nearly four hours of pain-staking graft.
Vince top-scored as the tourists went along slowly, blunting Australia’s much-vaunted pace attack at a venue dubbed ‘The Gabbatoir’.
Rookie batsman Dawid Malan did well to negotiate a nervy finish and was 28 not out at stumps, with all-rounder Moeen Ali unbeaten on 13 — which included the day’s only six — at the other end.
“I think it’s pretty evenly poised,” Cummins, who took 2-59 on his first day of Test cricket on home soil, told reporters. “Obviously they batted the whole day but didn’t really get away from us.”
Australia have a formidable record at the intimidating Gabba, where they have not lost a Test match since 1988, and where England haven’t won in 31 years.
Having won the toss, England would have been buoyed by the performance of rookies Vince and Stoneman but tempered by the disappointment that neither could go on to post bigger scores.
Stoneman was bowled four balls short of the relief of tea, while Vince was out making a needless dash for a single.
Vince’s wicket seemed like a turning point and though Root dug in for 50 balls, he was out lbw by a scorching delivery from Cummins, the wicket awarded after home captain Steve Smith demanded a review of South African umpire Marais Erasmus’s not out decision.
Australia lost a review in the final over trying to remove Malan lbw off paceman Mitchell Starc before play was halted due to poor light.
Vince, England’s surprise selection at number three, brought up his maiden 50 in his eighth Test, having never before surpassed 42 in his previous seven matches.
“The first hour on Friday will dictate how the rest of the day goes and if we can get through that without too much damage and Mo [Moeen] can score quickly, Jonny [Bairstow] has to come in,” Vince told reporters. “The more overs their bowlers bowl then the easier the scoring will become.”
Stoneman continued his prolific form following his century and three half-centuries in the four innings of the warm-up games as he raised his half-century with a streaky edge off Cummins, the ball falling short of second slip before racing off for two, leaving fielder Peter Handscomb pounding the turf in frustration.
Worse was to come for the hosts in the following over as recalled wicket-keeper Tim Paine, in his first Test for seven years, dropped Vince when he nicked Lyon behind on 68.
Not even the first-choice keeper for his home state Tasmania, Paine had taken state team-mate Matthew Wade’s place in the Test squad in a controversial selection, and the miss saw his captain fling his head back in exasperation.
While the pitch started with a green tinge, Smith said he, too, would have batted first as his fast men laboured to extract pace and movement for much of the day.
The exception was a peach of a delivery from Starc in the morning which removed former captain Alastair Cook for two, kissing the outside edge on the way to Handscomb in the slips.
It continued an uncertain start to the Ashes tour for Cook, who amassed 766 runs in England’s 3-1 series victory in 2010-11 but who has just one half-century in five innings on the current visit.
Smith earlier confirmed opener David Warner and Shaun Marsh would play after they suffered neck and back strains in recent days.
ENGLAND (1st Innings): A.N. Cook c Handscomb b Starc 2 M.D. Stoneman b Cummins 53 J.M. Vince run out 83 J.E. Root lbw b Cummins 15 D.J. Malan not out 28 Moeen Ali not out 13
EXTRAS (B-1, NB-1) 2
TOTAL (for four wkts, 80.3 overs) 196
FALL OF WKTS: 1-2, 2-127, 3-145, 4-163.
TO BAT: J.M. Bairstow, C.R. Woakes, S.C.J. Broad, J.T. Ball, J.M. Anderson.
BOWLING (to-date): Starc 19.3-4-45-1 (1nb); Hazlewood 18-4-51-0; Cummins 19-6-59-2; Lyon 24-9-40-0.
AUSTRALIA: D.A. Warner, C.T. Bancroft, U.T. Khawaja, S.P.D. Smith, P.S.P. Handscomb, S.E. Marsh, T,D. Paine, M.A. Starc, P.J. Cummins, J.R. Hazlewood, N.M. Lyon. UMPIRES: Aleem Dar (Pakistan) and M. Erasmus (South Africa). TV UMPIRE: C.B. Gaffaney (New Zealand). MATCH REFEREE: R.B. Richardson (West Indies).
Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2017