After obliterating England’s batting line-up 18 months ago with 37 wickets, Australia’s attacking spearhead Mitchell Johnson was largely neutralised by a slow pitch on day one of the Ashes opener in Cardiff.
England skipper Alastair Cook won the toss and elected to bat on an overcast morning in the Welsh capital but after the hosts had slumped to 3-43, the tourists’ attack laboured with exactly 300 runs added to the total for the loss of only four more wickets at stumps.
Two years ago England prepared pitches suited to the spin of Graeme Swann, and if the wicket in Cardiff is anything to go by have adopted a similar plan to stifle Australia’s quick men – Johnson in particular.
The 33-year-old, who averaged just under 14 with the ball when Michael Clarke’s men regained the urn on home soil, went wicketless at Swalec Stadium as Joe Root’s classy 134 led the English fightback.
Johnson tried manfully to get something out of the pitch but aside from a brief hostile spell to Gary Ballance he was negated by the batsmen and finished the day with figures of 0-84 from his 20 overs.
Mitchell Starc, who was nursing a sore ankle, also battled with his line, length and direction, but grabbed three wickets, including a peach of a delivery that clean bowled the dangerous Ben Stokes for 52 in the final session.
But it was tall seamer Josh Hazlewood who was the pick of the bowlers with figures of 3-70 in his first Ashes series.
The New South Welshman said there were no surprises at the pitch but insisted there were still signs of encouragement for the bowlers and vowed Starc and Johnson would get better.
“It’s slow, but it’s swinging enough. If you get the ball in the right areas it’s doing enough,” Hazlewood said.
“They bowled well in patches. They’re both attacking bowlers so they can go for runs on different occasions.
“But they certainly created quite a number of opportunities and hopefully we can take them next time.”
Root said England were pleased with the way they handled Johnson but stopped short of saying they have mastered the man who tormented them in 2013/14 in their own conditions.
“I don’t think that’s fair to say,” Root said.
“I think we played him extremely well today, but I’m sure there will be times throughout the series when he bowls extremely well and hopefully we can handle it like we did today.”