England has enjoyed its best day of the 2017/18 Ashes series thus far, with Dawid Malan’s wonderful ton steering the tourists to 4-305 at stumps on day one of the third Test in Perth.
Malan reached his first Test century late in the evening session, having worn down Australia’s once-firing quicks to take advantage of a good pitch and lightning-fast outfield as the sun began to set over the WACA.
He was well supported by Jonny Bairstow, whose promotion to number six in the batting order looks a belated one given how well he played. He too will be eyeing a century when play resumes tomorrow morning.
Malan was very much the star of the show, with both grit and effortless grace on display as he saw off a spell of bouncers to earn the right to showcase his driving ability.
Geoff Lemon’s analysis
In a long-term game like Test cricket, it’s easy to overstate the importance of things. For Australia, the day was dominated by the talk of two dropped catches, even though neither has as yet has unduly influenced the game.
Much was made of Mitchell Marsh putting down Mark Stoneman at first slip. Sure, he was useful in seeing off nine more overs of fairly hostile bowling, but the only scoreboard cost to Australia was four runs. Stoneman was also dropped by Nathan Lyon after the first drop, which didn’t really register with the narrative.
Presumably the significance of the drop was more about the junior Marsh, in that it would be deflating for him on coming back into the team. It must take time to adjust: Tim Paine and Shaun Marsh each dropped a catch in their return game in Brisbane. But neither was adversely affected in the longer term.
It was late in the day when Dawid Malan was put down on 92, before moving on to his hundred. Perhaps he’ll go on tomorrow to a mammoth score and cause Cameron Bancroft a lifetime of sleepless nights. But Australia will get a crack at him first thing in the morning with a nearly new ball in hand, so the third dropped catch has every chance of joining the first and second as footnotes. So far it’s worth 18 runs.
Bringing up his century with a cracking pull shot to the fence was just reward for a man who has showed glimpses of his talent throughout his fledgling Test career, but has now stood up for his country when it needed him most.
Joe Root’s decision to bat having won the toss looked a wise one at the time, with the smile on his face as the coin fell in his favour in recognition both of the quality of the pitch and his error in opting to bowl in Adelaide.
Mark Stoneman looked immediately at ease, counter-attacking against Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc to get England off to a flying start.
But his ease at the crease could not be matched by opening partner Alastair Cook. The former captain’s woes continued, and he was trapped plumb LBW a searing Starc delivery for just seven.
Stoneman carried on undeterred though, driving exquisitely and moving towards a half-century.
He was well supported by James Vince for a short period of time but, as always is the danger with Vince, he fell all too soon dangling the bat at a ball wide off stump.
But if England’s batsmen looked comfortable before the break, things changed quickly after it.
You could be forgiven for thinking you had gone back in time during lunch, as the pace barrage that followed was like something of a bygone era.
Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Starc all ramped up the pace in a devastating spell of bowling.
Hazlewood in particular was sending down serious heat to Stoneman, striking him in the head and having a rising ball skewed just short of a diving fielder in successive deliveries.
It was this sheer pace from both ends that eventually brought about the cheap wicket of Root, who got a feint glove down the leg side from a Cummins delivery. It was an unfortunate way for the skipper to go, but reward for Australia’s aggressive bowling.
The brutal fast bowling continued, and controversy would soon ensue.
Having battled bravely for nearly three hours, Stoneman copped an incredible rising delivery from Starc that whistled past his nose and somehow into the glove of a leaping Tim Paine. The umpire gave the appeal not out, but the Aussies reviewed.
Replays seemed to be inconclusive, with no obvious hot spot and the snicko seeming to be a little out of time, but the not out decision was overturned and Stoneman was forced to depart.
Naturally, having seen the same replays as everybody else, the England team protested. From the balcony, Root raised the possibility Stoneman’s hand was not on the bat when the ball was believed to have glanced it, and the umpires took an extended look at the incident.
Eventually, and after a long delay, the third umpire’s decision stood and Stoneman was given out. Further analysis suggested the call was the right one.
But that was the end of Australia’s joy, with Malan and Bairstow digging right in to get their team to the last break and then taking control of the match after tea.
Australia’s fast bowlers will need to recover quickly with an equally hairy day two in prospect for tomorrow.
The hosts will also look back on three dropped catches with regret — two from the bat of Stoneman put down by Mitch Marsh and Nathan Lyon and then a late chance off Malan shelled by Cameron Bancroft.