The Ashes: Australia Made to be Patient Against England on Day one of Boxing Day Test

Australia has been tested by England on an even opening day of the Boxing Day Test.

At stumps, Australia was 3 for 244 with Steve Smith (64 not out) and Shaun Marsh (31 not out) the unbeaten batsmen.

On a day featuring moments of high drama sandwiched between stretches of testing play requiring plenty of patience, Australia had centurion David Warner to thank for the bulk of its runs on day one.

Geoff Lemon’s analysis

David Warner attracts a certain amount of stick even from his own country’s supporters. With an aggressive game and ability to cash in when the going is good, it’s easy to label him a flat-track bully.

It’s not true, of course — he’s played plenty of important innings in genuinely difficult conditions to go with some of the less challenging ones. But he’s also a player who can make challenging conditions look easy. It’s a measure of how comprehensively he can get on top.

That’s what happened to start the Boxing Day Test. With Australia winning the toss, the sun shining brightly, and the pitch showing on television monitors as a glaring white, a million runs or so looked to be in the offing. Warner started cuffing boundaries to cement the impression.

But in fact the pitch was quite slow, timing was difficult, and Warner just happened to be playing exceptionally well, while also being given opportunities by Joe Root’s poor field placements. Cameron Bancroft at the other end was having a very different time, edging repeatedly and finding it hard to score.

“Early on he felt like the ball was sticking in the wicket a little bit, and a couple jumped at him,” Warner said later of Bancroft. One went to lunch on 83, the other on 19. But when Bancroft was dismissed after the interval, and Warner became bogged down approaching his hundred, it became evident how hard the work out there actually was.

England bowled better, the fields were tight, runs dried up, and wickets fell. Steve Smith and Shaun Marsh are both players with expansive attacking games, but they ground through to stumps with strike rates of 49 and 33 respectively.

Warner, on the other hand, had purred through his first 96 runs from 112 balls, a rate of 85. It was a vital contribution, without which the scorecard would have been nowhere. A flat-track bully that is not.

Warner (103) had failed to make a significant contribution in the series so far, but after Smith enjoyed a rare win of the toss and elected to bat first, the onus was there for Warner to make big runs on a batsman-friendly wicket.

Warner obliged, with the first 80 runs of his coming in swift fashion in an innings that saw 13 fours and a six clobbered around the ground.

But opening partner Cameron Bancroft (26) looked the polar opposite to Warner — who was plundering runs at will — with the right hander instead scratching around for runs and generally struggling with his timing.

His innings of struggle came to an end when he was trapped plumb LBW by Chris Woakes after the openers had amassed 122 runs, largely off Warner’s bat.

Up until the 90s, Warner looked like he would canter to a near run-a-ball century. But England’s bowlers began hitting their lines more consistently, drying up scoring opportunities as Warner struggled to find the gaps.

Those nerves culminated in Warner top-edging debutant Tom Curran sky high, with an easy catch taken at mid-on as Warner punched his bat in disgust, dismissed for 99.

Enter the no-ball check. Amazingly, Curran had overstepped, confiscating his own maiden Test wicket as well as the chance of denying Warner another century.

The opener would not let the reprieve slip. Glancing to square leg, Warner reached a 21st Test ton the very next delivery, bellowing in celebration at the second chance.

David Warner celebrates Boxing Day century against England

The no-ball incident prompted a brief war of words between Curran and Warner, as some verbal barbs arced up during a drinks break, with umpires called in to settle the two opponents.

But Warner would finally fall for 103, having been reined in as England hit the brakes on the scoring rate, edging James Anderson to the keeper with a feather touch.

The disparity between the two sessions could not have been starker. The lunch break saw Australia cruising at 0-102, but England commanded the second stanza, taking two wickets and conceding just 43 more runs by tea.

Usman Khawaja didn’t last much longer after resumption of play after tea, edging Broad to the keeper for Australia’s third dismissal, and Broad’s first wicket since the Adelaide Test.

Broad thought he was on a hat-trick when he trapped Marsh in front of the stumps first ball, but the umpire was unmoved. On review, impact on the stumps — around the bails — was deemed umpire’s call, and the batsman survived.

Stuart Broad celebrates wicket of Usman Khawaja

While the scoring rate remained slow, Marsh and captain Steve Smith combined for something of a counter-attack, in a 84-run partnership for the fourth wicket, which saw Smith reach yet another half-century.

England delayed the taking of the new ball until the final 15 minutes of the day, possibly in an effort to keep the scoring rate low.

Marsh and Smith survived the testing final overs, having built a platform to attack England on day two.