Freddie fires in the land of the dragon
The 2009 Ashes series got underway with a thrilling first day's play at Sophia Gardens. At the close of play the draw is the slight favourite in the betting at 6/4 with England rated at 13/8 shots and Australia available at 9/4 to win the first Test.
England look good value to deliver the goods after Andrew 'Freddie' Flintoff made a sparkling return to the international arena with a 51-ball 37 late in the day on the first day of the first Test in Cardiff.
Freddie's quickfire innings helped England along with his partner Matt Prior (who scored 56 off just 62 balls), at a time when it looked like all the hard work done by Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood looked like being thrown away after the pair had put on 138 for the fourth wicket.
Former captain Pietersen came to the crease with the hosts struggling on 90/3 after Alastair Cook had departed for 10 after a fantastic catch by Mike Hussey at gully.
Next to go was Andrew Strauss with the score on 67. He had looked the most comfortable in the morning session until a short ball from Mitchell Johnson had the England captain in trouble as the ball glanced his glove and went up in the air and into the hands of Michael Clarke.
England's number three Ravi Bopara was under intense pressure in the papers before the Test began and that pressure cooker atmosphere continued at the crease as the Essex man was on the end of some fierce deliveries. He eventually settled down and played some shots before he chased a slower delivery by Mitchell Johnson which was wide of the off stump and it was claimed by Phil Hughes on the off side as Johnson took his second wicket.
The odds for an England win during the opening session had drifted from 2/1 to 5/2 as the hosts made a shaky start. Nevertheless the precarious state that Pietersen and Collingwood found the England innings in when they came out to the middle showed little sign of affecting the experienced duo.
Their partnership ended on 138 with the score having some respectability to it at 228/3 when Collingwood edged a Ben Hilfenhaus delivery behind to wicketkeeper Brad Haddin. But England's undoubted best player, Pietersen, was looking on top of his game when the Durham all-rounder was caught. The South African-born batsman was on 62 and looking very much like the man who haunted the Australians four years ago. Unfortunately then KP decided to play a silly shot, as he attempted to sweep a Nathan Hauritz ball from miles outside his off stump and top edged it into the hands of Simon Katich.
The tourists knew how important this wicket was and so did the crowd and the fear was that this could have meant the start of yet another England batting collapse. However, the arrival of Flintoff galvanised the crowd and the Lancastrian was playing his shots full of confidence and he with Prior had the Aussies on the back foot.
The pair's shot-making even forced Ricky Ponting to have an off side sweeper to prevent boundaries. Australia regained momentum towards the end of the day with the dismissals of Flintoff and Prior as the Three Lions ended day one on 336/7.
The Test looks finely poised especially considering the pitch looks like it will cut up badly in the latter stages. This must surely help the home side though with the selection of both Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, although Peter Siddle displayed what he could do with a fantastic inswinger to dismiss Prior.
If England are to take a 1-0 series lead they will need James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Flintoff all to swing the ball to good effect in addition to the spin duo finding plenty of turn.
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