Alastair Cook survived some probing Australia bowling to guide England to 57-1 at lunch on the first day of the fourth Ashes Test at Chester-le-Street yesterday.
England captain Cook, who won the toss, was 21 not out and Jonathan Trott 13 not out, with Joe Root the only batsman dismissed in the morning session.
England came into this match having already retained the Ashes after a rain-affected draw in the third Test at Old Trafford left them 2-0 up with two to play.
However, that meant Australia could still deny them a series victory by winning both this match and the fifth Test at The Oval.
Cook opted to bat despite the pitch and overhead conditions promising assistance to Australia’s seamers in the first Ashes match at the headquarters ground of northeast county Durham.
His decision also meant left-handed opener Cook chose to face the new ball first-up even though his own form this series — 145 runs in three Tests at 24.16 with two fifties and a best of 62 — has been modest.
Thanks to a slowish outfield, England initially found runs hard to come by against Ryan Harris and Tasmanian paceman Jackson Bird, called up for his first Ashes Test after Australia dropped left-arm quick Mitchell Starc in the only change by either side to the teams that played at Old Trafford.
However, off the last ball of the 12th over, Root cover-drove Bird — described by Australia captain Michael Clarke as being reminiscent of remorselessly accurate pace great Glenn McGrath — for the innings’ first boundary and next ball Cook off-drove Harris for four.
However, first change Shane Watson had Root caught behind for 16 off a good length ball outside off stump, although Australia had to challenge New Zealand umpire Tony Hill’s original not out verdict.
Nevertheless, the much-criticized Hot Spot — whose inventor Warren Brennan suggested ahead of this match was being deliberately duped by players on both sides applying silicone tape to their bats — thermal imaging element of the controversial Decision Review System showed a mark and England were 34-1 in the 18th over.
Australia’s Channel Nine TV yesterday defended its reporting of the use of silicone tape on cricket bats during the Ashes series, saying they had not made allegations about players cheating
England captain Alastair Cook on Thursday described the claims as a “blatant fabrication” and demanded an apology from the network.
“We have been reporting on the story and have never made any allegations about players cheating,” a Network Nine spokeswoman said by e-mail yesterday.