By Rob Barnett
Tried and trusted principles were behind England’s success during the second installment of the Boxing Day Ashes Test.
The mantra of bowling a consistent line and length reduced Australia to 164 for nine at stumps, 91 behind in their first innings.
Such rhetoric may sound archaic in modern cricket, but it is the above values that have made Alastair Cook’s side favourites to win their first game of a hugely disappointing Ashes rubber.
Although James Anderson stopped short of admitting the latter, he emphasised the former in his exclusive post-play comments to ecb.co.uk.
Conditions at the MCG being more similar to English ones than at the previous three series venues are a factor too in the tourists’ resurgence.
Today was not nearly as overcast as Boxing Day 2010 when Australia were knocked out for 98, yet England’s attack made much more of what was on offer than the hosts had.
The importance of Kevin Pietersen’s stubborn 71, 67 coming yesterday in a display of the normally attacking batsman’s versatility, was clear. Likewise, Chris Rogers’ fighting 61 for Australia should not be overlooked.
Mitchell Johnson showed the value of threatening bowling on what Rogers said is a “two-paced” drop-in pitch, with three wickets in his first three overs today for fine figures of 5-63.
Perhaps inspired by Johnson, the outstanding bowler of the series, Anderson and Stuart Broad snared three scalps apiece.
England’s two breakthroughs before lunch came via Jonny Bairstow’s first catches as Test wicketkeeper, the latter off all-rounder Ben Stokes.
Stokes, part of a miserly quintet, allowed Cook to rotate his bowlers and keep them fresh. That paid dividends when Broad struck in his last two overs to make it emphatically England’s day.
Broad, who overcame a foot injury to play, bowled with venom most clearly seen from a short ball that drew blood after rearing to hit Rogers painfully on the helmet.
Rogers may have wished he had got bat on that delivery, just as Michael Clarke would have longed to instead of shouldering arms to be bowled by Anderson.
Steven Smith resisted for more than 90 minutes until Ian Bell held a sharp catch at second slip, where he was filling one of the void’s created by Graeme Swann’s retirement. As first-choice spinner, Monty Panesar adeptly filled another.
Rogers fell soon after Smith to the reliable Tim Bresnan, who excelled at the MCG three years ago and today also ousted Johnson.
Between Bresnan’s breakthroughs George Bailey fell for nought to a referred catch behind off Anderson.
If it had not been for in-form Brad Haddin’s swift 43 not out, Australia would surely have been dismissed today.
England will ideally deny Haddin a fifth 50-plus score in six series knocks by wrapping up the innings early on the third morning.