04/03/2024

Nathan Lyon celebrates a wicket as Australia's bowlers put England to the sword once again on Boxing Day. Image: @MCG. Twitter

Pat Cummins won the toss and elected to bowl on a green pitch under cloudy skies. Aided by some poor English shot selection, Australia ran riot, bundling the Poms out for 185 on Boxing Day

While only half full, it was a raucous 57,100 people that filled the MCG crowd that greeted both Australia and England on Boxing Day, as the pinnacle Test match of the summer took centre stage.

Pat Cummins won the toss and sent England in on a pitch with a green tinge under cloudy skies. The Australian skipper returned with a vengeance, leading Australia’s bowlers, aided by some poor shot selection to bundle England out for 185 in just 65.1 overs.

On a day where a Test debutant celebrated a dream home debut and more pressure was heaped on the England camp, in particular the captain Joe Root.

Here are the moments that mattered from Day 1 at the MCG.

Rested Captain Cummins first up impact

While he wouldn’t have wanted to have missed last week’s game in Adelaide, particularly through the circumstances in which he did, the match-off might have proved a blessing in disguise for Pat Cummins and Australia.

After winning his first toss as Australian captain and electing to bowl first, Cummins shared the new ball with Mitchell Starc from the Great Southern Stand end and struck immediately, removing Haseeb Hameed in his first over. 

It was Cummins’ 100th Test wicket on Australian soil, in just his 22nd Test match in Australia, at a rate of 20.6 to claim them.

He didn’t wait too long to strike again, catching the edge of Zak Crawley three overs later, caught by Cameron Green in the gully for 12. Leading the way in a dominant first hour for Australia after opting to bowl.

Skipper strikes a hammer blow on stroke of lunch

Despite their rocky start, England looked to be on track to survive Australia’s early parries just before the lunch break. With familiar allies in Dawid Malan and Joe Root coming together in the eighth over at 2-13, the pair did what they have done all series and forged a crucial partnership under pressure.

Malan was intent on surviving, being tied down by an Aussie side that refused to gift him the length required to drive through the covers, while Root flourished in keeping busy when at the crease. 

The pair were two short of reaching another 50-run partnership together when Cummins steamed in for the final over of the first session. Just when England had their eyes on a somewhat satisfactory lunch break, Cummins did his thing and caught Malan’s edge, with Warner snaring the catch at first slip. 

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It ended Malan’s stay early, as he endured a walk back to the pavilion having fallen for 12 off 66 balls, handing the ascendancy back to Australia.

Root makes it nine unconverted half-centuries down under

Having arrived at the crease at 2-13, Joe Root looked largely untroubled as he plundered his way to another half-century on Aussie soil. With steady composure and a busy mantra, he was a class above his fellow English top-order batters as he survived to the lunch break.

Against unrelenting Aussie bowlers, Root took matters into his own hands post-lunch, carving away a brace of boundaries to reach yet another half-century down under. 

The question on everyone’s lips was whether he could push on and finally turn his flawless innings into a maiden test century in Australia. 

But it all ended too quickly, as 15 deliveries in a row from Scott Boland and Mitchell Starc yielded only a single run – enough for Root to try and force a back-foot drive that only succeeded in giving an edge to Alex Carey.

It means the English captain now has posted nine scores of 50 or more in Australia without registering a century – equal with West Australian opening batter Bruce Laird. It’s a remarkable stat for Root, with his wicket opening the door for Australia to pounce on the opening day.

During his innings, Root climbed up to third position for the most runs in a calendar year, leaving a big job to claim the top spot in his final innings of the year later this week.

Buttler’s blunder caps off horror session for England

Heading into this make-or-break Boxing Day Test, the England side would’ve backed themselves in to trust their most experienced batters. But on the opening day’s play, England’s most internationally experienced batters in Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, and Johnny Bairstow all played woeful shots to give their wicket away.

It started with Root’s wayward feather to Carey, but only got worse deeper into the middle session when Cam Green tied Stokes down. Looking to score after his momentum was halted, Stokes’ back foot lofted drive gone wrong only ended in the lap of Lyon at backward point. It only looked worse on replays too, as Stokes got himself caught up unable to fend Green’s short ball away safely.

But when everyone thought Stokes’ dismissal was bad enough, Buttler went one worse in the final over of the second session. With Lyon floating off-spinners up with two fielders out on the leg side, Buttler indulged and duly gifted Boland his first catch in Test cricket.

Post-tea, it was Bairstow who threw away a steady start. Having gotten to 35, he then tried to play an upper-cut off Starc. Instead of flying to the boundary, it landed in the grasp of a diving Green at gully to sum up a forgettable day with the bat for England. 

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Boland breaks through on dream debut on Boxing Day

On a dream day for Victorian debutant Scott Boland, arrived a moment that he will long not forget.

Just the fourth Australian, male and female of Indigenous descent to play Test cricket, Boland received a shoutout and warm applause during the Welcome to Country ceremony prior to the anthems. 

He was brought onto bowl in the seventh over of the day, settling into a nice line outside off stump and operating away at the Members’ End. 

He was given the ball just after the tea resumption with England reeling, struggling to mount a competitive first-innings total.

Into his 12th over of the day, Boland, as he had done all day, angled a ball in to trap Mark Wood in front of his stumps which was given out on field by umpire Paul Reiffel. 

After Wood reviewed the decision due to some conjecture about what it hit first, hotspot confirmed it was indeed pad first. Ball tracking confirmed it was out with the three red lights giving the 32-year-old his first Test wicket.

Openers confirm a dominant first day despite late Warner wicket

There was plenty of chatter about the 11mm of grass on the MCG wicket, and England’s sub-par total of 185 did little to alleviate the pitch talk. 

But Australia quickly went to work in the final session to put that to bed, with openers David Warner and Marcus Harris getting away to a flier before the close of play.

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Warner led the way, going at a run and a ball. Even against the searing pace of the returning Mark Wood (who clocked up 150km early into his spell), Warner was at his comfortable and confident best in using the speed to cut away boundaries at ease. But when Anderson came back on late in the day, Warner’s great start finished at 38 when he fended one away to gully.

It didn’t halt Australia’s momentum, as up the other end, Harris was gifted a few leg stump half-volleys from Anderson and Robinson to get off the mark, and managed to fight his way through to stumps on 20 not out to set up a crucial second day for the Victorian’s test career. 

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