Australia last night continued their recent trend of dominating with the bat when given first use of Test pitches. On the flipside, they have made a habit of floundering when batting second, as seen at Cardiff.
The toss of the coin has a bizarrely monumental effect on the performances of the Australians. Since Darren Lehmann took over as coach, Australia’s win-loss record in Tests is a phenomenal 8-0 when batting first and a dismal 3-7 batting second.
In the 10 Tests they’ve batted second under Lehmann, their average total has been a meagre 282. That figure balloons out to 459 in the 12 Tests in which they’ve batted first.
Given that batting conditions often are at their best on days two and three it makes little sense that Australia should have such a giant discrepancy in their batting totals. There are any number of ways this could be interpreted.
The most obvious conclusion is that Australia’s batting line-up patently does not deal well with pressure.
When they bat first, with clear minds, their considerable natural talent is harnessed more often than not.
So it was last night as the tourists exploited an amiable deck, some ordinary bowling and several helpings of luck to canter to 1-337 at stumps on Day 1 at Lord’s.
The first piece of good fortune to come Australia’s way was, of course, the win of the toss which afforded them the chance to bat.
Just three balls into the innings, their second blessing arrived as opener Chris Rogers drove at a wide delivery from James Anderson. The ball flew off the edge of his blade just over the head of third slip.
The in-form veteran looked solid from that point forward but may well have been run out immediately after lunch.
He set off on a risky single, Moeen Ali gathered cleanly but fired a wide throw which, had it instead been a direct hit, looked as though it would have caught Rogers short of his ground.
The turning point of the day, however, was when England slipper Ian Bell had his ‘Brad Haddin moment’ in the 50th over.
England’s bowlers had followed a strategy of bowling wide of off stump to Steve Smith, although they had erred by not landing enough of those deliveries on a full length.
Ben Stokes rectified that and a wafting drive from Smith deflected low to Bell in the cordon.
The experienced Englishman’s catching has been horrid this year and while this was a low chance it should have been taken.
When Haddin dropped English prodigy Joe Root on zero at Cardiff there was a feeling Australia would pay heavily for his blunder. The same sense of fate emerged when Bell turfed this chance.
Smith had just registered his 50 but was yet to locate the rhythm which would later see him dismantle the England attack. From that moment on he appeared intent on making the most of the reprieve.
Most impressive was the manner in which he shackled his ego against Moeen, after being undone several times in recent Tests due to overconfidence against spin.
Early in Smith’s innings, in particular, he withstood the urge to skip down the track to Moeen. Instead, he used the full depth of the crease to regularly clip for ones and twos deliveries which were only marginally short of a good length.
As his innings progressed his showed more daring in his play against Moeen and part-time tweaker Root.
It was, however, the kind of controlled aggression which was missing from his play at Cardiff and from David Warner’s yesterday.
The Australian opener gifted his wicket to Moeen after arrogantly trying to obliterate the Englishman in his first over.
At this point, there was a risk Australia may fritter away yet another good start through excessive offence, just as they had in the first Test.
Smith and Rogers swiftly erased that concern as they compiled a pair of studious hundreds, playing to their strengths throughout.
For the elder man the moment his ton was achieved was a particularly glorious moment.
In his last Test series, on a ground where he has scored seven hundreds in county cricket, he broke a sequence of seven half centuries which had gone unconverted, including a pair of 95s.
By day’s end, Rogers had undergone a startling metamorphosis. The less-than-pretty nurdler had bloomed into a handsome, freewheeling strokemaker.
It was an innings that will have Rogers’ coaches and teammates, perhaps even himself, wondering why he’s about to retire.
Australia would surely love him combating the deadly swing of Kiwi quicks Trent Boult and Tim Southee next summer.
But, for now, Rogers sole assignment is to keep The Ashes in Australia’s possession. His colossal innings has helped prompt a major momentum swing in this series.