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  • England v Australia, 3rd Ashes Test, Old Trafford, 1st day

Clarke century puts seal on Australia's day

The Report Daniel Brettig
August 1, 2013
Australia 303 for 3 (Clarke 125*, Rogers 84, Smith 70*) v England
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Michael Clarke and Steve Smith led Australia into a commanding position © Getty Images
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What a difference a day's batting makes. Clueless, hopeless and helpless at Lord's, Australia summoned long-dormant reserves of application and patience to force England's bowlers to slave at a hot, humid Old Trafford. In doing so they breathed belated life into an Ashes series that now seems a fraction less inevitable in outcome than it did 24 hours ago.

It was no surprise to see the captain, Michael Clarke, at the centre of it all, marrying grit with glitz in one of his best and most satisfying innings, the first century by an Australia batsman since Clarke himself seven Test matches ago. But there were also critical contributions by the well-travelled Chris Rogers, a sparkling 84 that set exactly the right tone, and by the precocious Steve Smith, helped by a liberal supply of the luck that had previously deserted the tourists in the series.

Australia had felt much harder done by in the minutes before lunch, when Usman Khawaja was given caught behind and then had his referral rejected despite ample evidence that he had not touched Graeme Swann's offbreak. That verdict, reached by Tony Hill and upheld by Kumar Dharmasena, will serve mainly to batter the reputation of the serving umpires and the protocols of the DRS, which place a heavy weighting on the on-field umpire's initial call.

Khawaja's exit enhanced Australia's sense of injustice in a series where the wide margin so far has been hurried along by numerous questionable decisions but England were to join their opponents in feeling they had been wronged, as Smith was escaped three times in all, twice for lbw and once on a raucous appeal for a catch at the wicket. James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Swann were all showing signs of fatigue by the end, as Clarke and Smith capitalised on Rogers' bridgehead.

Anderson took the new ball at his home ground, though its reconfiguration in the middle and in the stands made it something of an unknown quantity for players on both sides. Watson collected a single and Rogers a boundary from the first over, a pattern that would be maintained throughout their partnership in conditions quickly revealed to be the most friendly for batsmen all series.

Rogers and Watson had trained together in London between Tests rather than travelling down to play against Sussex, and their new approaches reflected plenty of thought. Watson was largely conservative, battling to value his wicket and also to avoid the lbw fate that had befallen him three times in four innings. But Rogers showed far greater intent to score than simply survive and punished all but the most minute errors of line and length.

Sequences of boundaries pushed Rogers along in between the deliveries he gave their due respect, a brace off Tim Bresnan through gully and down the ground, then a trio to the fence in a single Anderson over took him to a second Test fifty. All these shots were played with assurance and no great sense of haste, but Rogers' intent had given Australia an ideal start.

At the other end, however, Watson was becalmed, and though he did not fall lbw it was less of a surprise to see Bresnan find a way through, coaxing an edge from a firm defensive blade that flew straight to Alastair Cook at first slip. Watson wandered off having again made only a start, his wicket drawing England back into the morning.

Usman Khawaja was the latest victim of a controversial DRS decision © Getty Images
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Khawaja was greeted by the introduction of Swann, and in his second over an optimistic lbw appeal was followed next ball by a more convincing shout for a catch at the wicket. Khawaja's bat brushed his pad well before swishing at the turning ball but Hill's finger was raised. After a brief pause to consult Rogers, Khawaja referred, shaking his head as he did so.

Despite replays that offered no evidence whatsoever of an edge, the third umpire Dharmasena upheld Hill's original call. Khawaja walked off with the air of a man found guilty of a crime he did not commit. Heated discussion of the incident, both at Old Trafford and around the world, extended well beyond the lunch interval. On resumption, Rogers lost some of his earlier fluency and Clarke dealt in edges as often as the middle of his bat. The combination of a looming century and inattentive stewards behind the bowler's arm did for Rogers, who lost concentration when facing Swann and swished across a straight ball to be lbw.

Smith came to the crease in halting form, despite a century at Hove, and gave England hope of another wicket. They thought they had it when Swann spun an offbreak sharply to strike Smith in front of the stumps, only for Hill to decline the appeal and then Hawk-Eye to deny the decision review by a millimetre. Happy to be reprieved, Smith gathered in confidence alongside Clarke, who had shed his earlier uncertainty to purr past 50.

As the tea break neared England had another moment of frustrated jubilation, when Smith drove at Anderson and a loud sound accompanied the sight of ball passing bat. Anderson and Matt Prior were utterly convinced, abandoning their usual tact to gesture for a review from Marais Erasmus even before the captain Cook had done so. But in the absence of a Hot Spot or a visible deflection Smith survived, leaving England to enter the final session without any reviews left to call on.

It would not be long before this came back to haunt the hosts, Hill declining an lbw appeal by Broad against Smith that struck the batsman in line and would have plucked out middle stump. English exasperation was to be heightened with every subsequent run, as Clarke and Smith established the most productive union between two Australia batsmen all series. Smith's effort was never quite fluent but showed plenty of gumption, while Clarke rediscovered the confident batting groove he had sat in throughout 2012.

At times Clarke could be seen to stretch his back, an ever-more-present handicap for Australia's captain, but his discomfort was no more evident than that of several Englishmen. Swann resorted to painkilling tablets on more than one occasion, while Broad spent a decent chunk of the final session off the field and receiving treatment for a tight calf. Given the toll taken on Australia's bowlers by earlier poor batting displays, it was a source of relief to Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris and company to see their opposite numbers starting to struggle.

A handful of overs before the second new ball was due, Clarke tucked Swann away to the leg side for his 100th run, and minutes later Smith paddled the same bowler to fine leg for his 50. They were to negotiate the new ball ably, settling in for further occupation tomorrow with a stand unbroken at 174. While Cook's men remain in charge of the series, Rogers, Clarke and Smith have at least ensured they will have a steep task ahead to seal it in this match.

The Huddle

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

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