• England v Australia, 4th Ashes Test, Durham, 1st day

Lyon leads strong Australia display

The Report by Daniel Brettig
August 9, 2013

England 238 for 9 (Cook 51, Lyon 4-42) v Australia
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Nathan Lyon removed England's Nos. 3 to 6 © Getty Images

As he wheeled away through 38 quite exemplary overs at Old Trafford for the reward of one wicket and the loss of the Ashes, Nathan Lyon must have wondered when fortune would deign to smile on him and Australia. The answer was not long in coming at Chester-le-Street, on a day when Lyon's remarkably incisive contribution was central to England's sharp decline from 149 for 2 to 238 for 9.

Alastair Cook's men may have the urn in their keeping but any sense of superiority is steadily eroding. They were guilty of profligacy at some times and paralysis at others, never finding the right gear for a pitch that was slow and nibbly but far from treacherous. Ian Bell in particular will curse his maddening choice of shot in the first over after tea, while Australia's seamers ensured the blows applied to English confidence in Manchester were followed up in Durham.

Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle and Shane Watson all contributed at various times, and Jackson Bird had a notable first day in Ashes matches, nagging away and capturing the prized wicket of Cook after England's captain had set himself for the kind of stony occupation he trademarked in Australia in 2010-11. But the major plaudits were reserved for Lyon, who won a significant battle with Kevin Pietersen and troubled every batsman with his flight, drop and changes of pace from around the wicket. His omission from the first two Tests of the series increasingly appears an error as grievous as that committed by Bell four balls into the evening session.

Lyon's simple ploy

Kevin Pietersen is caught behind by Brad Haddin © Getty Images
  • Once upon a time, offspin was an uncomplicated thing. The blokes tried to drift the ball away from the bat in the air and spin it back to the stumps. Most of them had an arm-ball, an outswinger effectively, that was bowled with the seam upright as a variation to the off-break. Offspinners constantly searched for a way to beat the outside edge so that batsmen could not set themselves against the natural movement of the ball which was designed to beat the inside edge.

    Finger spinners were dynamite in the days of uncovered pitches when, after rain, the ball gripped in the damp surface, often ripping out pieces of the turf and causing general chaos with the extravagant turn and extra bounce. The accepted methods of response were to play back and late, with the spin; to play forward but to lead with the bat, rather than with bat and pad together as this brought short leg and silly-point into play, or to come down the pitch and meet the ball on the full toss or half-volley. For this, batsmen needed quick feet and a certain courage. Some said you were better stumped by a mile than a whisker because at least you had committed.

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The early overs had lacked a certain energy, as Harris fought to relocate the rhythm and swing of Old Trafford, while Bird settled into a line and length that encouraged defensive dead bats but did not coax any edges into the Australian slips cordon. There was the merest hint of seam movement but the surface was otherwise slow, as was the outfield. Cook and Joe Root battled to find their timing, England's captain leaving plenty outside off stump while also coping with the full length Australia have forced him to deal with throughout the series.

Clarke again resorted to Watson before Peter Siddle, hoping for some new-ball movement, and after a somewhat wayward start it was the newly demoted allrounder - expected to bat at No. 6 in this match - who struck. Root was somewhat tardy getting forward to a ball sliding away from him, and the sound of the nick was clear to all except the umpire Tony Hill, who was soon crossing himself and raising his finger after Clarke's referral showed up a noise, a deflection and even a Hot Spot.

The wicket brought Trott to the crease, and he immediately showed signs of improved fluency after a poor third Test. His one boundary before the interval was an edge through the slips but there was also a more decisive flick through midwicket and a pair of confident strides out to drive. Clarke did not chance an over from Lyon during the morning, preferring to let his seamers push during a session that yielded them less than they might have hoped for.

Trott and Cook were largely unhurried and unfazed in the hour after lunch, and it was a shock to many when England's No. 3 squeezed a Lyon offbreak to short leg, where Usman Khawaja held a neat catch. Pietersen swung lustily at his very first ball and was fortunate to mistime it into the expanses beyond midwicket, but some better struck boundaries ensued and Lyon was withdrawn.

It was not until he returned that England were troubled again, a ball looped teasingly from around the wicket drawing an edge from Pietersen and a fine catch by Brad Haddin up to the stumps. If that wicket had altered proceedings, that of Cook's changed the complexion of the day completely, Bird finding just the right amount of seam movement to have the captain pinned in front of off stump with his bat never intended for use.

Cook had underestimated Bird's capacity to move the ball, and in the first over after tea Bell would pay for treating Lyon with contempt. Four balls into the evening, he advanced to drive at a flighted delivery, failing to get to the pitch and shelling a catch in the general vicinity of mid-off, where Harris clasped a sharp chance. It was a vainglorious stroke, and consigned Matt Prior and Jonny Bairstow to a major salvage task.

They started well enough, working the ball around, but as Clarke and his bowlers tightened up in response both batsmen were rendered near enough to shotless. Only 34 runs had been added in a union nearing 20 overs' duration when Prior was pinned in front of the stumps by Siddle. Aleem Dar declined the appeal, but Australia's referral showed the ball to be striking enough of leg stump for the decision to be overturned.

Bairstow fought desperately, denying his usual aggressive tendencies, but ultimately the pressure told. He went down on one knee to sweep Lyon from around the wicket and missed, Hill's finger was raised and Bairstow's anguished review showing the off break had straightened enough and would have clipped the top of the stumps. Stuart Broad soon followed, spooning Harris ineffectually to cover, and Graeme Swann picked out deep square leg.

Tim Bresnan and James Anderson played the day out comfortably, adding 24 from 20 balls. It was a sight that cheered the crowd but had to discomfort England, given their earlier wastefulness.

Peter Siddle pinned Matt Prior lbw © Getty Images

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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