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ENGLAND RACES INTO FIRST-INNINGS LEAD

By NBF News
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ENGLAND was firmly in control as it searched for the victory that would see it retain the Ashes after it ended a superb first day 59 runs ahead of Australia with all its first-innings wickets intact in the Boxing Day Test at the MCG.

James Anderson and Chris Tremlett shared eight wickets as they bowled Australia out for 98 in two sessions before Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss put on 157 without loss.

Cook was especially impressive, finishing the day on 80, including 11 boundaries, with the Essex opener opening up after surviving a reviewed appeal for leg before in the 24th over.

Strauss hit 64, including five fours, as the captain moved beyond 6,000 Test runs. Should England win in Melbourne and go 2-1 up in the series, it would retain the Ashes and the pair has given the team an ideal platform before it returns looking to build on its lead.

Strauss had put Australia in under cloud cover and on a surface dappled with green. Appearances were not deceptive, the ball moving around in the air and off the seam – and for good measure, occasionally leaping alarmingly from dangerous areas.

The result was a full house of dismissals from edges either to wicketkeeper Matt Prior – six – or catchers in the slip and gully cordon, as Australia posted its lowest total against England on this ground.

Strauss and Cook were in no mood to let the advantage slip, and seamlessly propelled England along – with massive power to add – after the sun had come out on cue to aid the batsmen from the moment England began its innings.

Cook survived an appeal for leg before when a review showed that he had got an inside edge in the 24th over and he continued impressively.

The Essex opener brought England level with the hosts with a single as the MCG emptied of home fans as the visitors began to pile on the runs.

Strauss blocked a delivery by Steve Smith, which fell just short of first slip with the score on 156, as

Australia desperately searched for the breakthrough.

Australia's seamers, who knew they had precious few runs to play with, did not bowl badly but were a little less disciplined than their opposite numbers.

Anderson (four for 44) was the pick of that impressive display, despite unluckily failing to take even one wicket in his new-ball spell. Instead, Tremlett (four for 26) collected two of the first three, and Tim Bresnan – called up for this pivotal match in place of leading wicket-taker Steven Finn – also soon put his name in the final column.

The evidence was clear from the outset that Australia faced a struggle, and opener Shane Watson's 12-ball stay was a fretful one. Second slip Paul Collingwood and, more glaringly, Kevin Pietersen at gully both dropped Watson off Anderson.

But it barely mattered, because Tremlett produced a brute of a delivery from just short of a length to kick and take the glove for an unmissable catch to Pietersen.

Second-wicket pair of Ricky Ponting and Phil Hughes endured an often unequal battle, to little avail. After a succession of scrapes each, Hughes fell to first-change Bresnan's seventh delivery of the series – chasing some freedom outside off-stump, only to spear a drive on the up straight to Pietersen.

Ponting counted two crunching pulls for four when Anderson decided to test out the short ball. But the Australia captain got no further than 10, before Tremlett – switched to the Southern Stand end – got another to spit and take the splice for an excellent catch high at second slip by Graeme Swann.

Ponting's run of poor form therefore extended to 32 runs in his last five innings. Much depended on Australia's next pair, Michael Clarke and the previously prolific Michael Hussey.

England was already ahead in the game but soon 0-2 down on DRS – an apparent disadvantage that was to prove irrelevant.

Strauss brought Anderson back just before lunch at the Members end, and he delivered a telling blow when Hussey almost immediately edged some swing behind to make it 58 for four just one ball before rain ended the session early.

The procession kicked in properly after lunch, with the next four wickets falling for 11 runs.

A few 'action replays' were involved as Anderson saw off Steve Smith, Clarke and Mitchell Johnson to edges behind at lateral movement – and Bresnan had Brad Haddin nicking to slip when he went after a slightly wider ball.

It was only a matter of time before the last two wickets fell in similar fashion, and in the end Australia could not even scrape a collective three figures.