Melbourne:On a day when Ricky Ponting lost his cool with the umpires, Jonathan Trott was a picture of composure as his second century of the series kept England on target to retain the Ashes. Led by an aggressive Peter Siddle in front of his home crowd, the Australian fast men tried to drag their team back into the contest but after their first-innings 98, the hosts needed a miraculous day, not a solid one.
Trott was the anchor for England, with support from Kevin Pietersen and Matt Prior, and by the close of play their advantage had grown to 346 runs, already an ample lead that will grow on day three. Trott went to stumps on 141 and Prior had 75, and Australia's inability to break through in the final session sapped any energy they might have drawn from Siddle's early strikes.
Three days of rain might be feasible in Brisbane, given the recent weather in the north, but it won't happen in Melbourne, and Australia's batsmen must find remarkable resolve in the second innings if England are to be denied victory and the urn is to remain up for grabs at the SCG. And judging by Ponting's outburst, levelheadedness is not widespread in the team right now.
He was convinced the review of a not-out caught-behind decision against Kevin Pietersen showed a deflection on Hot Spot, but it was a misguided thought as the ball had passed much higher on the bat. After the third umpire correctly backed Aleem Dar's on-field decision to reprieve Pietersen on 49, Ponting heatedly argued with Dar, Pietersen and the other umpire Tony Hill.
It was an ugly incident that took the attention away from a solid 92-run partnership between Trott and Pietersen, which ended soon afterwards when Pietersen was plumb lbw to Siddle for 51. What followed was an eventful mini-session as the out-of-form Paul Collingwood (8) and Ian Bell (1) both hooked short balls from Mitchell Johnson to Siddle at fine leg, before Prior had a lucky escape on 5.
Just before tea, Johnson won a caught-behind decision from Dar, and Prior was walking off when he was called back by Dar, who had a nagging doubt about whether Johnson had overstepped. A quick consultation with the third official showed Johnson had indeed delivered a no-ball; Prior was reprieved, the Australians were frustrated, and the Prior-Trott partnership was allowed to bulge to 158 by stumps.
In amongst it all, Trott survived a tight run-out chance when his dive to complete a third just beat Ponting's throw from the outfield, and he brought himself serious pain when he inside-edged Ben Hilfenhaus on to his left knee. After a couple of minutes of lying flat on the pitch in agony, Trott continued to annoy the Australians with his fine, disciplined innings.
There were occasional cover-drives from Trott, but generally he showed as much leg as a burlesque dancer. Trott would walk across and expose his leg stump, dragging anything and everything through midwicket or fine leg, and by the time he brought up his hundred with an appropriate clip through square for a boundary, 87% of his runs had come through the leg side.
Not that there were many boundaries from Trott, who was content to nudge through the gaps and keep the fielders chasing. It was that kind of cool that Australia's batsmen lacked on the first day, and England's strong performance continued with Prior reaching a fifty from 81 balls as the shadows grew longer in the late afternoon.
It meant five of England's top seven had made at least a half-century in the innings, and it was all set up by the 159-run opening stand from Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook. But neither man was able to kick on during the second morning, and both fell to Siddle after adding only a few runs to their overnight scores.
Cook moved from 80 to 82 before he was caught low at first slip by Shane Watson, having edged a delivery that was tight enough in line to make him play. Strauss went from 64 to 69 when he was surprised by a well-directed shortish ball from Siddle, and it lobbed off the bat above the head of the gully Michael Hussey, who thrust his right hand up to take a good catch.
It was the best spell of the day by an Australian bowler, as Siddle collected 2 for 5 from his first six overs, before his final over of that period was dispatched for 13 as a confident Pietersen drove and pulled. Steven Smith was handled with ease and didn't look threatening, Hilfenhaus couldn't find much swing and Harris was well below his Perth form, also struggling to move the ball.
Not that the bowlers could be blamed for Australia's position. And if anything is to change over the next few days, their batsmen will need to take a leaf out of Jonathan Trott's book.