ASHES: The big talking points from day one

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

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    Australia's Steve Smith, right, and Phillip Hughes. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

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    Can Alastair Cook make runs without the cut shot? Why did anyone doubt Siddle? How much weight rests on Chris Rogers’ shoulders? Will Australia’s wicketkeeping woes continue?

    No cut shot, no Cook?
    English skipper Alastair Cook is famously proficient off the back foot, slicing the ball through point and gully when given just the slightest of opportunities.

    But New Zealand’s bowlers proved in their recent Tests against England that, if deprived of his pet cut shot, the supreme opener is fallible.

    Australia’s opening bowlers, while far from accurate in their initial spells, did manage to starve Cook of anything short and wide yesterday.

    The Englishman repeatedly was guilty of feeling for the ball outside off stump while playing with his blade in front of his leading pad.

    Mitchell Starc, who was gaining significant swing away from Cook, squared him up twice in one over. On both occasions it was seam not swing which undid Cook, who ill-advisedly pushed at the deliveries in an anxious manner.

    Cook could do worse than to study the approach adopted by his new opening partner Joe Root, who despite being just 22 years old gave his veteran compatriot a blueprint for negotiating the swinging ball.

    The youngster played each delivery as late as possible, waiting for the swing to reveal itself and illuminate the intended path of the ball before committing to strokes.

    Time after time, Root struck the ball right under his nose. It wasn’t attractive but it was productive.

    Cook’s comparative impatience at the crease, seemingly provoked by his scoring drought square of the wicket, saw him gift his wicket to James Pattinson by flashing at a full delivery and edging behind.

    The question now is whether Australia can replicate this strategy throughout the series and, if so, how will Cook adapt?

    Will Australia’s keeping woes continue?
    It was a tough chance but one which could have swung the game further in Australia’s favour.

    Kevin Pietersen, restless and rusty at the crease, tried to flick an errant delivery from Peter Siddle to the fine leg boundary.

    The contact the ball made with Pietersen’s blade was so fine that it flew well within reach of Aussie ‘keeper Brad Haddin who dove to his left but failed to touch the ball, which dipped under his left glove.

    The ball did appear to nosedive shortly before it reached Haddin but, nonetheless, it was the sort of opportunity which Australia has to grasp if they are to cause an upset. Fortunately for the Aussies, Pietersen made only 14.

    A veteran gloveman, Haddin has been recalled to the side at the expense of the youthful Matthew Wade to add experience to a green outfit and, seemingly, to improve the standards behind the stumps.

    Wade played some fantastic Test innings for Australia but was a liability as a ‘keeper, frequently missing straightforward chances, particularly off spinner Nathan Lyon.

    With England able to rely on keeper Matt Prior’s neat skills with the gloves, Haddin must match the efforts of his opposite number. But is he capable of doing so?

    Never write off Siddle
    Many Roarers have chided Peter Siddle, labelling him unworthy of a berth in the Aussie starting XI.

    I could almost sense their exasperation last night as the burly Victorian began his Ashes campaign in inglorious fashion, serving up a buffet of half volleys which were devoured by Ian Trott.

    Siddle entered the Test in discouraging form, having laboured through the Australia A and tour games, and upon being handed the ball by Clarke promptly released the pressure built up by Pattinson and Starc.

    He leaked 27 runs from his first four overs as Trott and Root steered England into a solid position. Luckily for Siddle, his skipper Michael Clarke has greater faith in him than many Roarers.

    Clarke switched Siddle to the opposite end which proved fruitful immediately as he castled Root with a sparkling delivery which curved away late to beat the opener’s outside edge.

    Following the lunch break, Siddle once again bounded to the crease with ceaseless endeavour.

    Pietersen signalled his intent by thrashing a full ball from the Aussie quick through the off side for four. Undeterred by the big South African’s aggression, Siddle persisted with his full length and next ball teased a lazy drive out of Pietersen.

    Soon after Siddle drew an uncharacteristically loose stroke from Trott, who thrashed at a wide swinging delivery and inside edged the ball back on to his stumps.

    Siddle returned to the crease later that session to account for Ian Bell and Matt Prior, both of whom slayed Australia in the last Ashes series.

    After being dismantled in their opening spell of such a momentous series, many bowlers would wilt. Siddle, however, showcased the tenacity and persistence which makes him a guaranteed starter in any Aussie Test team.

    He may not be the most gifted bowler in Test cricket but never will Siddle yield. He has gotten more out of his talent than any international paceman of the past decade. Would you argue with that claim Roarers?

    How much weight rests on Chris Rogers’ shoulders?
    Rarely has a batsman in just his 2nd Test assumed so much responsibility.

    With Shane Watson undependable, Ed Cowan still battling to adapt to Test cricket, Phil Hughes perennially vulnerable, and Steve Smith unproven, Rogers is under monumental pressure to hold the batting together along with Clarke.

    As the top order crumbled around him yesterday, Rogers looked assured and unhurried in overcast English conditions with which he is so familiar.

    Unlike Cowan, whose fatally ambitious swipe outside off stump appeared indicative of an anxious and muddled mind, Rogers rarely strayed from his natural strengths.

    The 35-year-old was unlucky to be adjudged LBW for 16 to a ball which looked to be sliding down leg side but which Hawkeye showed to be shaving leg stump.

    Rogers has made a career of playing within his limitations and grinding out runs. He won’t thrill the aesthetes but is a sturdy performer who rarely gifts his wicket. In English conditions against a strong pace attack such circumspection is crucial.

    But just how high can our expectations be of a Test rookie who hasn’t played international cricket in five years?

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco