There was a distinct hint of Christmas about Australia’s batting on the first day at the MCG this year: one large gift, a hectic morning, a post-lunch doze, and a second wind as the evening approached. On a day when David Warner scored his second consecutive century in Melbourne Tests, Australia went to stumps in a satisfactory position at 3 for 244, with Steven Smith on 65 and Shaun Marsh on 31. And yet, despite the scoreline, it was a day on which England’s toil deserved respect.
Whatever presents Smith opened on Christmas Day were nothing compared to the gift of winning the toss – something he had not done in a Test since March – on a hot day at the MCG, where the pitch was so flat it looked like one curated for the BBL, not the Ashes. And during the first session, there was nothing in the pitch for England’s bowlers but despair as Warner raced towards 83 at lunch, with Australia at 0 for 102.
But, as if made drowsy by tryptophan, the Australians slowed dramatically after the break. Only 43 runs were added between lunch and tea for the losses of Warner and Cameron Bancroft. If this pitch was a road, England’s bowlers had suddenly turned into sleeping policemen. And yet England still faced the challenge of dismissing Smith, which nobody has done in a Boxing Day Test since Umesh Yadav in 2014, and thus Australia accumulated a further 99 in the final session.
The most memorable moment of the day for the 88,000 spectators came when Warner was on 99 and tried his risky short-arm pull against the debutant seamer Tom Curran. As the ball ballooned off the top edge and straight to Stuart Broad at mid-on, Warner’s expression was one of disbelief at throwing away his 21st Test century. The disbelief quickly spread throughout the stadium as replays showed Curran had overstepped, and Warner was reprieved by a retrospective no-ball call.
Curran was denied his maiden Test wicket – and by stumps still had not claimed it – and next ball Warner brought up his century from his 130th delivery with a single clipped off his hips. Curran joined Ben Stokes and Mark Wood as England players in recent years to have missed out on their first Test wicket due to a no-ball, but he bowled well throughout the day in unhelpful conditions.