Mitchell Johnson made the most of the second new ball, taking two late wickets in front of a world record crowd on Thursday to leave England on a precarious 226—6 at stumps on the opening day of the fourth Ashes test against Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Kevin Pietersen had two big reprieves to bring up a half century and anchor a dour England batting performance before Johnson (2—59 ) struck shortly before the close of play to remove Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow.
Ryan Harris (2—32) claimed the important wicket of Ian Bell earlier in the evening session.
A crowd of 91,092 a record for a single day of test cricket attended the opening day, surpassing the 90,800 set at the MCG in 1961.
Pietersen will resume Friday on 67 from 152 balls, with Tim Bresnan on 1.
After successive top-order collapses this series, England maintained a cautious approach on a MCG wicket that offered as much to the batsmen as the bowlers.
Pietersen, who has been widely criticised for several cheap dismissals this series, stifled his usual expansive style and was helped by more than a little luck.
The big—hitting South African—born batsman had a reprieve shortly before tea, escaping with a six when he was caught at deep—backward square only for substitute fielder Nathan Coulter—Nile to carry the ball over the boundary rope.
Michael Clarke’s decision to send England in to bat for the first time after winning every toss this series was beginning to seem flawed early in the day before some tight bowling from Peter Siddle finally paid off with the wicket of England captain Alastair Cook in the 17th over.
Cook, whose previous appearance ended with a golden duck in the second innings of the third test at Perth, made 27 in a confident 48—run opening partnership with Michael Carberry before Siddle tempted him into an edge to Clarke at second slip.
Opener Carberry, who survived a decision review for lbw shortly before lunch, appeared set to bring up just his second half century of the series before losing his leg stump to allrounder Watson for 38. It was the third time Watson has claimed Carberry’s wicket this series.
Watson continued to look dangerous until breaking down mid—way through his seventh over and limping off the field with groin pain. He later returned to the field after tea.
Alastair Cook c Clarke b Siddle 27
Michael Carberry b Watson 38
Joe Root c Haddin b Harris 24
Kevin Pietersen not out 67
Ian Bell c Haddin b Harris 27
Ben Stokes c Watson b Johnson 14
Jonny Bairstow b Johnson 10
Tim Bresnan not out 1
Extras- (10b,6lb,1w,1nb) 18
TOTAL- (for six wickets) 226.
Overs - 89. Batting time - 391 minutes.
Fall of wickets- 1—48, 2—96, 3—106, 4—173, 5—202, 6—216.
Still to bat- Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson, Monty Panesar.
Bowling- Ryan Harris 20—8—32—2, Mitchell Johnson 20—9—59—2 (1w), Peter Siddle 22—7—48—1 (1nb), Nathan Lyon 20.2—3—60—0, Shane Watson 6.4—2—11—1.
Umpires: Aleem Dar, Pakistan, and Kumar Dharmasena, Sri Lanka.
TV umpire - Billy Bowden, New Zealand. Match referee - Ranjan Madugalle, Sri Lanka.