England’s day of disaster hands Ashes initiative to Australia

England has put in its worst day of Test cricket in years to gift Australia the initiative in the fourth Ashes Test, in a day of chaos and disaster for the hosts.

Bowled out for 102 on a lively pitch, with Peter Siddle taking a bag of five wickets and Stuart Clark three, England allowed Australia to progress to four for 196 at the close of play, with the series already well on the way to level terms if Australia can go on to make the tally 1-1 with one Test to play after this.

The day started for the English at 4am with a fire alarm having the entire team standing outside its hotel, and things just got worse from there. Talismanic all-rounder Andrew Flintoff failed a fitness test and was replaced by Steve Harmison, and keeper Matt Prior tweaked his back playing soccer in the warm up and was nearly also a late withdrawal.

Captain Andrew Strauss won the toss for England and decided to bat on a bouncy pitch that favoured the bowlers on day one with swing and seam movement. Strauss faced the first ball of the match from Ben Hilfenhaus which swung in and hit him directly in front, but umpire Billy Bowden was unmoved, as Rudi Koertzen had been for so many Australian LBW shouts previously in the series. That bit of good luck didn’t do Strauss (3) much good, however, as he drove Siddle past gully’s right hand, but Marcus North flung out his hand and caught him.

What followed was a procession of English wickets, with all four front-line Australian seamers getting a scalp before lunch to have England six for 72. Clark, left out of the series until now but with a perfect bowling action for English conditions in the Terry Alderman mode, had three. All six wickets fell to catches behind the wicket, as the Australian attack showed a level of control and accuracy that they have only shown glimpses of since the first Test in Cardiff.

After lunch, Siddle then ran through the very long English tail to four more catches, and it was the turn of the Australian batsmen to face the conditions. Simon Katich was out for a duck fending off a Harmison bouncer, but after that the English bowlers failed to take advantage of what was still an excellent pitch for them to exploit, bowling way too short and wide.

Shane Watson (51) and Ricky Ponting (78) scored half-centuries, but Ponting and Michael Hussey (10) were given out LBW by umpire Asad Rauf to very contentious decisions, both deliveries by Stuart Broad looking to be going down leg side. Some brief respite from the flow of decisions against Australia came late in the day as Michael Clarke (34 not out) fended off a Harmison bouncer but survived an appeal for caught behind, replays showing afterwards that the ball may have touched the elastic on Clarke’s wrist that is connected to the glove.

Clarke and North (7) steered Australia to stumps with a 94-run lead, and four days in which to punish the English for their day of horror.