England ended an intriguing second day of the opening Ashes Test on 80 for 2 today, meaning a lead of 15 over Australia, after Ashton Agar fell agonisingly short of creating history at Trent Bridge.
Captain Alastair Cook and the returning Kevin Pietersen combined in a third-wicket partnership of 69 to help the hosts recover from 11 for 2, the pair reaching the close unbeaten on 37 and 35 respectively.
Their efforts, which came after Mitchell Starc had removed Joe Root and Jonathan Trott in successive deliveries on the stroke of tea, helped erase a 65-run deficit that had all come about because of an astonishing innings of 98 from Agar.
The debutant looked certain to become the first No 11 to make a Test century until a pull shot off Stuart Broad, deemed fit to bowl after coming through a morning fitness test, only found Graeme Swann out at deep mid-wicket.
Still, his fantastic 101-ball knock — which included 12 fours and two sixes — meant Australia reached 280 by the time they were finally bowled out, Phil Hughes left unbeaten on 81.
The little-and-large pair of left-handers put on a world record last-wicket stand worth 163 after Australia had lost five wickets in 32 balls to slump to 117-9 in the morning session.
England will look back and wonder what might have been had third umpire Marais Erasmus given Agar out stumped when he had just six to his name. Replays suggested his foot was raised as wicketkeeper Matt Prior removed the bails, but the batsman got the benefit of any doubt.
At that stage the Australians had only 131 on the board after yet another five-wicket haul from James Anderson at the Nottingham venue had tilted the balance of power firmly in the home side’s favour.
Steve Smith became the first batsman to reach a half-century in the match but his departure for 53, caught behind by Prior, sparked a mighty collapse from a rather comfortable 108 for 4.
Anderson claimed the initial breakthrough on his way to figures of 5 for 85 as he and Swann (2 for 60) put England within sight of a healthy first-innings advantage.
Brad Haddin and Peter Siddle both departed for singles while Starc didn’t even get off the mark; he had already been dropped by Swann at second slip off Anderson by the time the same bowler tempted him to edge through to Prior.
Swann had Australia nine down when he trapped James Pattinson leg before with a delivery that went straight on, meaning the Australians had gone from 108- for 4 and thinking of a lead themselves to staring down the barrel of a big deficit.
However, Agar and Hughes had other ideas, their record stand giving their country a lead that looked even greater when Root and Trott fell cheaply, albeit the latter being left far from impressed at Erasmus after being adjudged leg before on review.
The Warwickshire right-hander initially survived a loud appeal when struck by a Starc inswinger from the first ball he faced, only to be given out after replays had been checked. Trott felt there was an inside edge, but side-on “hotspot” technology was not available.
Cook and Pietersen gradually repaired the early damage on a pitch getting lower and slower and by stumps they had nudged England’s noses in front, though quite which direction the Test is heading in is anyone’s guess. (Sky)