England recover well in Ashes opener

Cardiff, July 8

Joe Root made Australia pay for dropping him on nought by making an unbeaten 93 as England advanced to 190-3 at tea on the first day of the first Ashes Test at Sophia Gardens on Wednesday.

Root came in with England wobbling at 42-3 before lunch after skipper Alastair Cook and Ian Bell had departed in quick succession. But together with the gritty Gary Ballance (59 not out) he staunched the flow of dismissals, the Yorkshire duo adding an unbroken 147 for the fourth wicket on a sluggish pitch as England got through the second session without further loss.

Earlier, despite the overcast conditions, Cook decided to bat first after winning the toss as England began their quest to regain the Ashes having been whitewashed 5-0 in Australia in 2013/14 — a series where Root was dropped for the concluding Test in Sydney. Josh Hazlewood struck with just his sixth ball against England when he had fellow Ashes debutant Adam Lyth, aiming legside, well caught low down by a diving David Warner at gully for six.

Australia captain Michael Clarke, bidding to lead his side to a first Ashes series win in Britain in 14 years, lived up to his reputation for ringing the changes by bringing on off-spinner Nathan Lyon as early as the 10th over. Try as he might, Cook couldn’t get Lyon away and the 14th consecutive ‘dot ball’ he received from the spinner proved his undoing, an edged cut caught by Brad Haddin.

Cook was out for 20 and England were 42-2. That became 43-3 when experienced batsman Ian Bell’s run of low scores continued when he was lbw for one to a rapid, full-length and swinging delivery from left-arm fast bowler Mitchell Starc. Bell’s exit meant he’d scored just 56 runs in his last nine innings. Root almost went lbw to Starc first ball, spared by a thin inside edge, and next ball he was dropped by a diving Haddin, the keeper unable to hold a right-handed chance. During the 2013 Ashes Test at Lord’s, Haddin dropped Root on eight before the Yorkshireman went on to make 180.

Root has the priceless ability to up the tempo if he does stay in. When left-arm quick Mitchell Johnson, whose 37 wickets in the last Ashes series were central to Australia’s rout of England, dropped short he was cut for four by Root. At lunch, England were 88-3, with left-hander Ballance, struggling for form but hanging in gamely, 28 not out and Root unbeaten on 33. Root went on to a 56-ball 50 including six fours. Soon afterwards, England’s fourth-wicket duo had a century stand with Root contributing 72 off 74 balls and Ballance 25 off 70.

Lyon was convinced he had Root lbw for 62 when the batsman missed a sweep. Sri Lankan umpire Kumar Dharmasena gave Root not out but vice-captain Steven Smith, with Clarke off the field, called for a review. Replays indicated the ball had just pitched outside leg stump and so Dharmasena’s original decision was upheld. Ballance’s cover-driven four off Starc saw him to a gutsy 127-ball fifty including seven fours. It was his sixth fifty in 14 Tests and came after a meager sequence of 139 runs in nine innings in all cricket.