Australia struggles on rain-hit day

Sydney: Usman Khawaja’s initial eight balls in international cricket provided some of the rare flourishes on Monday in the fifth Ashes Test before he was out for 37 on the last ball of a gloomy, rain-shortened opening day when Australia’s batsmen struggled again to get on top of England.

With no chance of regaining the Ashes but hopeful of levelling the series, stand-in captain Michael Clarke won the toss and elected to bat despite overcast conditions tipped to favour the England seamers. After 59 overs and breaks for bad light and rain, the new-look Australian line-up was 134-4 when play was stopped.

Mike Hussey, Australia’s leading batsman in the series, was unbeaten on 12. All of the top-order, with the exception of Clarke, got starts but failed to capitalise. Tim Bresnan picked up the wickets of Shane Watson (45) and Clarke (4) and returned figures of 2-47 for England, while Chris Tremlett and spinner Graeme Swann took a wicket each.

Khawaja got off the mark with a two and a pulled boundary from Tremlett on his first two deliveries – the first two after the lunch interval. He raced to 15 from eight balls but slowed his scoring rate as he settled in, eventually facing 95 balls in two hours. The 24-year-old left-hander’s five boundaries contained a perfectly timed chip off behind square-leg – immediately after he got an edge, which just failed to carry to second slip – and a risky glance through the cordon.

Khawaja said he was just concentrating on this Test and expected Ponting, whom he rated as Australia’s best batsman behind the great Sir Donald Bradman, to come back at some stage.

“I had a ball out there. I just wanted to stay out there as long as I could,” he said. “It was a good start. Got all the anxiousness out of my system.” He said the Test was delicately poised, with Australia still in a good position if they could produce a big partnership in the second morning.

Bresnan said the English attack worked brilliantly in conditions that were more suited to them. “We bowled well, put them under a lot of pressure … definitely our day,” he said. “We certainly bowled well in the first session with the new ball and made them play in a way where they are not used to playing, so we’re happy with that. “Although they played really well, I thought we were unlucky not to have them a few more down.”

Bresnan said England had no intention of taking it easy despite securing the Ashes last week, with the targets of winning their first Test series in Australia since 1987 and winning back-to-back Tests in Australia for the first time since 1978-79 firmly in their sights.

“We’re definitely up for this game,” he said. “We obviously celebrated quite well after Melbourne, but we still have a job to do and we still want to win this game.”

Openers Phil Hughes and Watson played with discipline and uncharacteristic restraint, leaving as many balls as they played and nudging the score along to 55 in 29 overs before Tremlett ended the stand with the last ball before lunch.

The England attack tied down the Australians for the entire first session, and although Tremlett troubled both openers, the bowlers weren’t rewarded until the lanky paceman tempted Hughes with a shorter ball and the 22-year-old left-hander feathered a head-height catch to Paul Collingwood at third slip.

Watson batted for three hours, facing 127 balls, before edging a straightforward catch to England captain Andrew Strauss at first slip off Bresnan to make the total 105 for two. All his five boundaries came after lunch in a 50-run second-wicket stand with Khawaja.

The second session was played in dull, artificial light and featured an eight-minute suspension due to the overcast conditions, with storms threatening until tea was taken early due to rain. More than an hour of play was lost before the evening session resumed. Clarke failed to add to his pre-interval score before guiding an attempted cut straight to Jimmy Anderson at gully with the total at 113.

Khawaja and Hussey added 21 in good time before the rookie No. 3 attempted to sweep Swann in the first over of the spinner’s new spell and miscued a catch to Trott at square-leg. Rain started tumbling immediately and players left the field for the day.

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