first_imgThe grim-faced Australia captain battled away to prevent England from gaining a first-innings lead in a Test that has, so far, been surprising, not just to the locals.On an unusually sluggish Gabba pitch on which the spinners have often seemed the most threatening of the bowlers, England’s much maligned tourists – the unnamed ones destined to being whitewashed, according to some Queenslanders – were still in the match after two days of old-fashioned cricket, which has been fascinating, despite the sluggish progress of the batsmen.At the close on Friday Australia were 165 for four in response to England’s 302 and their innings had been stitched together by Steve Smith, now the lord of this manor rather than the court jester. Smith, 64 not out at the close, allowed himself no flights of fancy; Australia were in too much trouble for that. His chief ally, to the relief of the home selectors, was Shaun Marsh, a controversial choice who now seems a good one. It has been an unusually good game for selectors. During that early period of tranquillity any problems stemmed from Nathan Lyon, who was still finding substantial turn that had the ball beating the outside edge of both left-handers. The off-spinner, an increasingly combative and opinionated Test cricketer, now propels the ball at quite a pace, sometimes reaching 60mph. His control of length in this innings was impeccable partly because he was seldom challenged by the England batsmen.His line against the left-handers could have been better; the modern way against them is to ensure the ball pitches in line with the stumps, whereupon the front-foot lbw is a constant threat. Instead Lyon, to his increasing exasperation, kept beating them outside the off-stump.A Mitchell Starc bouncer accounted for Malan but not before he had registered his third and most important Test 50. He was caught on the square leg boundary from a top-edged hook. His 56 took 130 balls, 11 of which he hit for four, a statistic of some significance. This was an admirable, gutsy innings – even if the end was ugly – but it is clear Malan would be even more effective if he could find a way to manipulate some singles along the way. Perhaps that is being greedy at such an early stage in his Test career. The simple, encouraging fact was that his score meant this was the first time three Ashes newcomers had passed the half-century mark in the same Test. Read more Facebook England, adopting the template that was so successful on the 2010-11 tour, ensured run scoring was almost as arduous for Australia as it was for the themselves. Only in the last hour did Smith score with freedom. Before that he put his head down and grafted. Australia’s situation demanded nothing less. At one point they sunk to 76 for four, whereupon Smith was grateful for the appearance of the patient, technically sound Marsh of stout West Australian pedigree.The other West Aussie, Cameron Bancroft, had not lasted long on his debut. In Stuart Broad’s second over he prodded aimlessly outside the off-stump and was caught behind. With two left-handers at the crease Joe Root summoned up Moeen Ali for the ninth over of the innings and that decision was soon justified when Usman Khawaja was lbw on the front foot.So Australia’s two batting trump cards were together and for 40 minutes they looked untroubled. England opted to keep David Warner’s boundary count down by employing sweepers square of the wicket but “the Reverend” appeared to recognise the virtue of patience. Then Jake Ball was introduced and Warner played that short-arm jab of a pull which caused his downfall in England during 2015 on several occasions. The ball went straight to Dawid Malan at midwicket and the catch was held, albeit after an alarming little juggle.After tea Peter Handscomb, with the curious technique and impressive Test record, was lbw to Jimmy Anderson. His feet planted wide apart with the right one just a few inches in front of his stumps. He missed a full, straight delivery. Now the situation was serious but Marsh dug in alongside his captain. Anderson and Broad were cagey and frugal, Ball and Chris Woakes less so. Moeen was given much responsibility but as the ball softened it was less inclined to turn. The wicket was sleeping. Serenity had returned.For there had been some serenity for English batsmen at the start of the second day before another vivid reminder that nothing can be taken for granted. In the morning Malan and Moeen added another 50 runs against the second new ball with remarkably few alarms. Then England slumped from 246 for four to 250 for seven in the space of 17 deliveries. Support The Guardian Share on Messenger Reuse this content Share on Facebook Read more England cricket team Now Lyon struck. First Moeen, sensing the need to consolidate, was lbw pushing forward. Then Woakes, driving waywardly, was bowled through the gate. Suddenly 300 was a distant dream especially after Jonny Bairstow was caught from a top edge as he tried to pull a not-so-short delivery from Pat Cummins, who has impressed in his first home Test.From here Australia satisfied the call of Thursday’s front-page headline of “Bodyline” in the local paper. England’s tail was bounced incessantly though there are no reports of Root starting any sentences with “there are two teams out there; one is playing cricket”, outside Australia’s dressing room.In fact, given his recent travails against the short ball, Broad resisted nobly while making 20 though he was assisted by a dropped catch by Marsh on the boundary. By the close the West Australian had made amends. Ashes 2017-18 Ashes diary: pool proposal makes a splash on day two in Brisbane Share on Pinterest Share via Email Australia go short but it may yet be an Ashes opportunity missed Topics The Ashes Dawid Malan scored a half century for England. Photograph: Chris Hyde – CA/Cricket Australia/Getty Images Twitter Cricket Share on Twitter Share on WhatsApp Australia sport Pinterest Share on LinkedIn match reports Australia cricket team … we have a small favour to ask. More people, like you, are reading and supporting the Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. And unlike many news organisations, we made the choice to keep our reporting open for all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford to pay.The Guardian will engage with the most critical issues of our time – from the escalating climate catastrophe to widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. 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