Johnson capitalises on England jitters

Australia

England batsman Kevin Pietersen's fighting half-century and fast bowler Mitchell Johnson's telling breakthroughs with the second new ball characterised the ebbs and flows on day one of the fourth Ashes Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Thursday.

England batsman Kevin Pietersen's fighting half-century and fast bowler Mitchell Johnson's telling breakthroughs with the second new ball characterised the ebbs and flows on day one of the fourth Ashes Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Thursday.

The intrigue started with host captain Michael Clarke's choice to bowl after wining the toss, bucking a long trend that has brought numerous choices decisions to bat first.

Openers Alastair Cook and Michael Carberry questioned the move with a solid 48-run stand, but fell in reasonably quick succession to afford the Australians more of the momentum enjoyed throughout an unassailable three-nil series lead.

Cook holed out to the slip cordon for 27, while Carberry's misjudgement outside the off-stump ended a vigil of 38 after all-rounder Shane Watson topple the bails. The talented Joe Root was largely defensive en route to a pedestrian 24, and arguably left far too many potentially profitable deliveries.

Pietersen, throughout, fought hard – answering plenty of critics who have questioned an otherwise cavalier campaign. He found sound support in fellow right-hander Ian Bell. The pair added 67 runs inside 31 overs, defying the cocky Australian players and fans alike.

The hosts had the proverbial last laugh, though, when Bell obliged seamer Ryan Harris' introduction with a thin edge to wicketkeeper Brad Haddin. The batsman's lack of footwork left plenty to be desired – and brought a record 90,000-strong crowd collective cheer.

Pietersen cherished a rearguard half-ton, but not before accidentally swallowing a flying insect. The innings, however, would have read considerably shorter – had 12th man Nathan Coulter-Nile not stumbled over the fine-leg boundary rope after holding onto a good catch. The two lifelines saw Pietersen surpass former opener Geoff Boycott to become England's fourth highest run-scorer in Test cricket.

Coulter-Nile was substituting Watson, who complained of a minor groin injury. Midwicket fielder George Bailey, too, dropped a sharp chance. All-rounder Ben Stokes counterattacked, but was no match for Johnson and the second new ball.

The recalled Jonny Bairstow, chosen ahead of vice-captain Matt Prior, also perished to Johnson. The in-form left-arm seamer threatened to conclude the inning within 90 overs – but Pietersen and all-rounder Tim Bresnan dug in en route to the safety of the close of play.

Pietersen and Bresnan will resume on 67 not out and one not out respectively, come Friday, when England will target a 300-plus total before insisting the seam attack replicate – and better – Johnson and company's success.

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