Australia exposed the shortcomings of England's frail batting lineup to take command of the fourth Ashes test, reducing the hosts to 238-9 on the opening day after offspinner Nathan Lyon grabbed four wickets. England failed to take advantage of a good batting surface at Chester-le-Street after winning the toss, with only captain Alastair Cook (51) making a half-century under blue skies.
From positions of strength at 107-1 and then 149-2, England ended up crawling past 200 in often painstaking fashion after many of its top batsmen threw their wickets away. Lyon was the standout bowler, sparking the collapse with the dismissal of Jonathan Trott for 49 and ripping through the middle order to claim team-best figures of 4-42.
"We were pretty happy with the way the whole bowling squad went as a unit. We built pressure," Lyon said. "I was lucky enough to take the rewards." The Australians are 2-0 down and can't regain the urn but they can still draw the five-match series by winning the final two tests, giving them some confidence heading into the return series Down Under.Their first job will be to end the frustrating last-wicket pairing of Tim Bresnan (12) and Jimmy Anderson (16), which put on 24 in the final few overs of the day to haul England's score to something approaching respectable. In five first-class matches on the ground this season, no team has made more than 267 batting first. "There's still four days of test match cricket here," Lyon said. "We've got to do our job with the bat again and take another 10 poles after taking one in the morning."
The tourists' attack continued where it left off the drawn third test at Old Trafford, resuming its probing line and length and giving England very few easy runs. Lyon was unlucky to pick up only one wicket in Manchester on his return to the team in place of Ashton Agar but he found success easier to come by on what looked a tougher track for spinners, mainly by coming around the wicket. He clearly benefited from England getting tied up in knots by Australia's accurate pacemen — Ryan Harris, Ashes debutant Jackson Bird and Peter Siddle. It meant batsmen were keen to release the pressure on them by taking on Lyon, with Kevin Pietersen (26), Ian Bell (6) and Jonny Bairstow (14) all falling after attempting big heaves off the spinner.
"It's a little uncharacteristic of us as a side — (usually) we put a lot of emphasis on our wickets," said Trott, who was in full flow and was closing on his quickets test 50 before flicking Lyon onto his pads and up to Usman Khawaja at short leg "Winning the toss and being a 100-odd for one, it's disappointing to then go and lose some soft wickets. We have to reassess that and put it right." Lyon's snaring of Trott and Pietersen, whose often reckless knock ended when he edged Lyon behind, slowed an already stodgy England innings to a crawl, just as the hosts were looking comfortable midway through the second session.
And when Cook — Bird's first Ashes victim — and Bell departed in a three-over span around the tea interval, it got even slower. Every single was cheered loudly by England fans in a turgid final session. The manner of Bell's dismissal — he was caught at mid-off attempting a lofted drive over the infield — meant the lower order were scared to go for their shots. In one dreary spell, only five runs were scored in the Bairstow-Prior stand in 10 overs, with Bairstow going 65 minutes before moving off 12.
Matt Prior fell lbw to Siddle for 17 after DRS overturned the umpire's on-field decision and Bairstow's miserable Ashes continued when he missed a sweep and was trapped in front. He reviewed but the decision stood. In fact, the under-pressure DRS fared well at the end of a week of heavy criticism following a string of contentious calls in the opening three tests. Claims from broadcaster Channel Nine that silicon tape might have been attached to the edges of bats of both teams to "fool" the technology were angrily denied this week, but the flap meant excitement spread through the ground when Australia appealed a caught-behind decision in favor of opener Joe Root after England had crawled to 34-0 off 17.3 overs in a quiet morning session. Third umpire Marais Erasmus wasted no time in overturning the call of on-field umpire Tony Hill when the smallest of white marks was shown on Root's bat on the replays. Hot Spot wasn't needed the rest of the day.