England toil as Warner gives Australia control on day one of fourth Test

first_imgnews Forget the curate and his egg for a moment. It was the Reverend who delivered his Christmas message in front of a packed congregation and then most of them went to sleep or home. To put it more bluntly: Warner hit his 21st Test century to decorate Boxing Day, whereupon he was dismissed and thereafter nothing much of note happened.On an otherwise pedestrian day of Australian ascendancy there were brief moments of high drama for the masses to enjoy and theynearly always involved Warner. By mid-afternoon he had cruised to 99 with barely a false stroke, though his progress through the 90s had been relatively slow and careworn as England’s seamers opted to bowl to him with a seven-two heavy off-side field.Surrey’s Tom Curran, who had been given his first Test cap by Bob Willis, a debutant in Sydney in January 1971 when he was still with the Oval club, bowled from around the wicket; Warner attempted to work the ball towards the empty leg-side and only spooned to mid-on where Stuart Broad held a simple catch. The feelings of elation – for the bowler – and despair – for the batsman – were soon reversed as a replay revealed that Curran had overstepped and was therefore still in pursuit of his first Test wicket.In the stands there may have been some torment for Willis, who also suffered the agonies of costly overstepping in his youth. You could imagine, too, that England’s fast bowling coach must have been tearing his hair out in the dressing room – except they do not have one in attendance at the moment. Chris Silverwood commences his tenure in January. The exasperation of the England players – especially since Warner was the beneficiary of that no-ball – was plain to see.Next ball, Warner tapped the necessary single and embarked upon an exaggerated celebration. Yet after this setback Warner was becalmed and would only add three runs before he was caught behind off Jimmy Anderson. Warner’s 103 came out of the 135 runs scored while he was at the crease and a pattern was set: Australia’s great players, Warner and the inevitable Smith, could score freely enough; the mortals, on the slowest pitch of the series so far, could not. Missing out on Warner’s wicket was the worst feeling, says Tom Curran Ashes 2017-18 Read more Read more After reaching his century Warner was not inclined to go for the jugular; instead after his reprieve he tried to consolidate and as a result became stuck against Anderson, who eventually found his outside edge. In the 26 overs of the afternoon session Australia had scored just 43 for two.After tea Khawaja fell, ending a sequence of 414 barren deliveries from Stuart Broad. Once again the 31-year-old had been on target without threatening, but here a cutter kissed the edge of the bat to produce a simple catch that Jonny Bairstow dared not drop. Khawaja’s 17 had been just as laborious as Bancroft’s 26. Shaun Marsh then missed his first two balls from Broad and was perilously close to lbw – an “umpire’s call” working in the batsman’s favour. Soon he was into his measured stride.The off-breaks of Moeen Ali, whose presence had been in doubt after being hit on his left hand when training on Christmas Day, offered no threat and leaked runs at a rate so alarming that Root tossed the ball to Dawid Malan and a few optimistic leg-breaks. Smith was wary against him as if to confirm his view that Malan is England’s best spinner. Anderson was the best of the seamers as usual, while Curran, despite overstepping the mark with dire consequences, at least looked as if he was enjoying himself, which was not obviously the case with all 11 out there. It was a curate’s egg of a day. In the first session Australia raced to 102 without loss, 83 of which came from David Warner’s bat; in the second they were becalmed while losing two wickets. But in the evening Australia reasserted themselves, with Steve Smith back at the helm, protecting his side’s advantage as resolutely as a kangaroo does her joeys. At stumps Australia were sitting pretty once again on 244 for three. Smith, who barely missed a ball or played a shot in anger, was unbeaten on 65.Smith is now so ruthlessly methodical that it is possible to perambulate the outside of this vast arena and still picture every stroke he plays. The great batsmen are so predictable and Smith undoubtedly is one of them. Yet the hordes of fans had probably come in the hope that it was Warner who would prevail, and he did not disappoint. Share on WhatsApp The contrast between the best and the rest could not have been more vivid than in the morning. Warner was briskly into his stride, straight-driving with authority and clipping the ball square of the wicket with ease – although occasionally he sent the ball in the air on the off side. For him batting was a breeze; for Cameron Bancroft it was a trial.The young West Australian was rarely beaten, though on several occasions he was inconvenienced by the short ball at his body. That is not supposed to happen when English pacemen are bowling. So, while Warner had reached 83 at lunch, Bancroft had mustered 19. Even so it already looked ominous for Joe Root and his men.Yet the afternoon belonged to England despite the frustration of Warner’s escape on 99. First, a Chris Woakes delivery thudded into Bancroft’s pads and the batsman did not even consider consulting his partner before walking off. His replacement, Usman Khawaja, was just as passive. He may not have looked in trouble, but there was no urgency from him, as if he had reached two conclusions: that this was a flat pitch so there was no way that he was going to take any risks, and that he has been short of runs in this series. Read more Stuart Broad ends longest drought to show grounds for Joe Root’s faith Share on Facebook Topics Ashes 2017-18: Australia v England fourth Test, day one – as it happened Share on Messenger Share on Pinterest England cricket team Share via Email Australia sport Cricket Since you’re here… Share on Twitter The Ashes Support The Guardian Australia cricket team Share on LinkedIn … we have a small favour to ask. More people, like you, are reading and supporting the Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. And unlike many news organisations, we made the choice to keep our reporting open for all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford to pay.The Guardian will engage with the most critical issues of our time – from the escalating climate catastrophe to widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. 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