Cool Cook matches sparkling Strauss
Contrasting half-centuries from Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook enabled England to take a sizeable chunk out of Australia's lead in the final Ashes Test.
Replying to a respectable 280, England raced to 98 without loss on the back of Strauss’ 60, made at quicker than a run a ball.
However, he and Jonathan Trott perished in successive overs to check their early progress, and Kevin Pietersen’s dismissal late in the day left England even more grateful for Cook’s patient unbeaten 61.
His composure was the main reason the tourists closed day two in Sydney on 167 for three, although he was fortunate to survive on 46 when he was caught off a Michael Beer no-ball.
It denied debutant Beer a maiden Test wicket, but he at least had a catch to show for his efforts when Pietersen top-edged Mitchell Johnson to fine-leg five overs before the close.
Johnson was a central figure with bat and ball, initiating an Australia fightback by flaying 53 off 66 balls, while Ben Hilfenhaus made a marginally less valuable 34 before becoming the last of James Anderson’s four victims today.
Their stand of 76 for the ninth wicket - comfortably the highest of the innings - helped Australia recover from 189 for eight and, in doing so, avoid ignominy.
Kept in the field longer than he would have preferred, Strauss seemingly took his frustration out on the Australia bowlers by charging to his quickest Test half-century.
If the flurry of gorgeous strokes which thudded off his blade ended any notion of Australia carrying their batting momentum into the field, Cook’s more measured innings served to soothe England’s nerves and keep them marginally in the ascendancy in this absorbing contest.
Both were abetted by shockingly wayward Australia new-ball bowling. The home attack fed Strauss’ leg-side strength off both front and back foot, most memorably when Hilfenhaus was pulled for six over square-leg.
Strauss’ innings also contained the sweetest of cover drives - always a sign that he is in good touch - and it came as a surprise to the majority of those inside the SCG when he somehow played inside a delivery from Hilfenhaus that swung back in late from round the wicket.
A leaden-footed Trott fell moments later to Johnson, bowled via a thick inside edge as he reached for one outside off stump, and Pietersen’s frantic start to his innings did little for the mental state of the travelling support.
Cook continued to accumulate steadily either side of his reprieve off Beer, when he chipped tamely to mid-on.
Umpire Billy Bowden, unsure over the position of the slow left-armer’s front foot, called on TV official Tony Hill. Replays confirmed he had overstepped and Beer’s celebrations were cruelly cut short.
A 25th Test fifty for Cook arrived moments later, followed shortly by his 5,000th Test run - only Sachin Tendulkar has achieved the feat at a younger age - but Pietersen’s dismissal for 36 courtesy of a top-edged hook provided Australia with renewed hope.
Cook, with assistance from nightwatchman Anderson, snuffed it out - at least for today.
It capped a profitable day for Anderson, who claimed four of the six Australia wickets to fall - he finished with 4-66 - after the hosts resumed on 134 for four on a pitch which continues to offer the seamers ample encouragement, and some spin for Beer this evening.
Given how well Anderson bowled, it was ironic that one of his less threatening deliveries brought about Brad Haddin’s downfall in the fourth over, caught behind wafting airily off the back foot.
Mike Hussey, 12 not out overnight, batted for the best part of an hour and a half today without finding any fluency, but the timing of his dismissal - to the final ball of the 79th over, and thus exposing the tail to the second new ball - summed up Australia’s plight.
His footwork, usually so decisive, was non-existent as he played back to Paul Collingwood’s part-time medium-pace, and a thick inside edge on to the stumps ended an innings of 33 off 92 deliveries.
Anderson, swinging the ball both ways at pace, was always likely to be too much for the technically inadequate Steven Smith, who edged a reckless drive to Collingwood at third slip, and Peter Siddle’s rather more tentative prod saw him taken by Strauss at first slip in the same over.
Johnson and Hilfenhaus responded with aggression to a position of increasing peril, although the number of miscued strokes initially outweighed those of authority.
However, Hilfenhaus advanced down the pitch to drill Tim Bresnan into the stand at long-on shortly after lunch - making a mockery of Johnson’s attempts to shield him from the strike - while Johnson smote Graeme Swann over midwicket for four and six off successive deliveries.
The overriding emotion in the England camp was relief when Bresnan swung one in to peg back Johnson’s off stump and give him figures of 3-89.
Anderson, meanwhile, needed just one delivery of a new spell to have Hilfenhaus, advancing down the track, caught behind pulling.