Melbourne: Australia vice captain Michael Clarke lamented another top order batting collapse that sent the hosts crashing to a record low first innings on day one of the fourth Ashes Test against England in Melbourne on Sunday.
Australia’s 98 from only 42.5 overs eclipsed the previous lowest of 104 against the tourists at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, set in England’s inaugural Test tour in 1876/77.
England’s Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss then survived three hours to stumps, compiling 157 to give the hosts a 59-run lead and boosting the tourists’ hopes of their first Ashes triumph on Australian soil in 24 years.
“It’s obviously very disappointing. I would have liked another 150 runs on the board,” Clarke, who top-scored for Australia with a meagre 20 runs, told reporters.
“I think if we could have managed to get 240-250 in our first innings on that wicket I think we would have been much happier.
“We certainly have no excuses, we played some poor shots today. We obviously didn’t show enough discipline. As we’ve seen when the sun’s come out and dried the wicket out it’s a really nice wicket to bat on now.”
Australia’s batsmen slumped on a grassy, moist pitch that offered swing and varying bounce in the morning to be all out by catches behind the wicket.
England’s seamers James Anderson, Chris Tremlett and Tim Bresnan bowled tight, disciplined spells but had their work made easier by Australia’s seeming determination to chase balls short of a length and swipe at deliveries when boxed in at the crease.
Opener Phillip Hughes (16) was especially culpable, slashing a Bresnan delivery straight to Kevin Pietersen at gully while Brad Haddin (5) also gifted his wicket with a flat-footed drive that sailed straight to Andrew Strauss in the slips.
With Mike Hussey dismissed by Anderson for eight and unable to mount another middle-order rescue, Australia face an enormous task to save the Test and the series.
Clarke tried to put a positive spin on Australia’s challenge, which has been compounded by the selectors gambling on a four-prong pace attack on a slow pitch that will offer turn for spinners late in the match.
“I think we can sit here now and look at that but if we had have won the toss and bowled, that would have been the last thing we would have been speaking about,” Clarke said of the selector’s choice of bowling attack.
“So, there’s always a gamble picking 11 players. That was the decision the selectors and Punter (Ricky Ponting) wanted and the team supports that 100 percent.
“We’ve got four days to go, it’s a long Test match, they all are. So if we come out tomorrow and bowl well, take these wickets and then have a really good bat in our second dig, you just never know what could happen.”