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Ashes: Jonathan Agnew column

Fifth Ashes Test: Australia 134-4 v England (stumps, day one)
Venue: Sydney Cricket Ground Date: 3-7 January (resumes 2300 GMT on 3 Jan) Coverage: Live on Test Match Special on BBC 5 live sports extra, Radio 4 LW & online; TMS highlights online (UK only) and day's review on the TMS podcast; live text on BBC Sport website; live on Sky Sports 1; highlights on ITV4
Match scorecard

Jonathan Agnew
By Jonathan Agnew
BBC cricket correspondent in Sydney

Michael Clarke is out
Michael Clarke's miserable series with the bat continued in Sydney

Australia's stand-in captain Michael Clarke's decision to bat first was a brave one.

But a more experienced captain would probably have chosen to bowl first. The overcast, murky conditions, the threat of rain throughout most of the day - it felt like a bowl-first day.

And with Australia 134-4 at the close, Clarke might rue his decision.

My gut instinct was confirmed as the ball duly moved around off the wicket from the first over.

However, the toss is a very different situation when you have your neck on the line for one match, with Australia needing to win to draw the series, just in case it backfires and ends your prospects of taking over from Ricky Ponting full-time.

So it's easy to understand why Clarke went for the safer option, but Tim Bresnan confirmed after the day's play that England would have put Australia in to bat if they had won the toss.

England did not bowl as well as they have done in the previous four Tests and they were a little too short at times. But they also could have had three wickets before lunch.

What was clearly noticeable was the Australian's top-order's belligerence and determination in not playing any unnecessary shots.

They were able to leave a lot of deliveries in the first session, too many in my opinion, but there was a palpable sense of cutting out any risky strokeplay and concentrate on a long stint at the crease.

TOM FORDYCE BLOG

However, that said, the Australians refused to play their shots, which meant the scoreboard was moving very slowly.

This perfectly highlights the lack of confidence in the Australia top order. When the scoreboard is not ticking over and you lose two quick wickets, as they did before the rain set in, you're still in no man's land.

Clarke's tepid series continued with a rash shot outside off stump but debutant Usman Khawaja showed plenty of promise during his 95-ball innings. One aspect of his technique he has to work on is his footwork, as he looks vulnerable on the off stump.

He gets forward nicely but doesn't go back and squares himself up with both feet pointing down the track when the ball holds its line, which will cause trouble in the future.

His dismissal was probably down to inexperience more than anything else. England applied plenty of close-field pressure with Graeme Swann applying the screw and the young left-hander went for a big hit, but instead top-edged his sweep to Jonathan Trott at square leg just before the rain curtailed the day's play.

Shane Watson leaves a ball which flies over his stumps
The pink stumps are one of the eye-catching features in Sydney

Khawaja is a qualified pilot and has shown a good temperament for Test cricket. As a pilot you have to make decisions under pressure and he clearly has the right temperament to succeed.

Traditionally, Sydney has been the most helpful pitch in Australia for spinners. But Australia last played two spinners at the ground nine years ago when Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill were in their prime.

And only India have used two spinners since then because the SCG surface is becoming more seam-friendly.

New South Wales' Sheffield Shield games at the ground have been played on green-tops and the drier, dustier pitches are becoming an increasingly rare sight. But it's hardly surprising when Australia's spin resources are at an all-time low.

On another note, you can't fail to have noticed the huge swathes of pink around the Sydney Cricket Ground in support of the McGrath Foundation, the charity founded by former Australian fast bowler Glenn McGrath to raise awareness for breast cancer, which sadly killed his wife in 2008.

The match sponsors have changed background of their logo from the traditional red to pink - the first time they have ever done this - while the stumps are a bright shade of pink too.

All of this has been done very tastefully and carefully and it really must be applauded. The third day is when everything goes pink - my pink shirt is already laundered and ready to go while Michael Slater's pink suit will make its eagerly-awaited appearance on Wednesday.

Jonathan Agnew was taking to BBC Sport's Pranav Soneji

Listen to commentary highlights from the fifth Test (UK users only)

TMS podcast: Jonathan Agnew and Geoff Boycott's review (available worldwide)



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see also
England on top in rain-hit Sydney
03 Jan 11 |  England
Bowling first suited us - Bresnan
03 Jan 11 |  England
Ponting to undergo finger surgery
03 Jan 11 |  Australia
Fifth Ashes Test day one photos
02 Jan 11 |  England
Monday's Ashes gossip column
03 Jan 11 |  Cricket
Live cricket on the BBC
26 Oct 11 |  Cricket
England in Australia 2010-11
08 Oct 09 |  Cricket


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