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Stokes takes six wickets - but England let promising position slip again
Updated 8:43am Friday 3rd January 2014 in Sport
DURHAM all-rounder Ben Stokes posted Test-best figures of 6-99, but England allowed another promising position to slip on the opening day of the fifth Ashes Test in Sydney.
With fellow Durham player Scott Borthwick making his Test debut at the SCG, England reduced their hosts to 97 for five when Brad Haddin strode to the crease to join Steve Smith.
But as has been the case so often in this series, Haddin led an Australian fightback, scoring 75 alongside Smith, who claimed a century.
In 27 overs, the pair transformed proceedings with a stand of 128 which helped Australia to 326 all out.
When England then lost Michael Carberry, caught at leg slip off Mitchell Johnson after being given a torrid time by the left-armer in awkward light before stumps, Australia yet again held the balance of power - with the tourists' reply on eight for one.
It has been a recurring theme of this winter's Ashes mis-match for Australia to hint at first-innings vulnerability, before Haddin comes to their rescue.
So it was here, after Alastair Cook had won his first toss of the five-match rubber as England seek to avoid a whitewash, that he took his series aggregate to 465 by passing 50 for the sixth time.
Haddin made it a full house of half-centuries or better in the first innings of each Test - a unique feat, in a five-match series.
His two-hour innings of 75 contained several of his favourite pulls and inside-out drives among his 13 boundaries - and once he was gone, in one-day mode by the time he pushed loosely forward outside off-stump at Stokes and edged to slip, Smith still had an appetite for more as he continued to 115.
He proceeded to a chanceless 142-ball century on his home ground, his third in Tests and second of this series - completed in an over from novice leg-spinner Borthwick which contained a six over long on and then his 15th four, smashed off a full toss.
Another half-century stand followed with Ryan Harris in only six overs as Australia kept attacking opponents whose bowling resources were already severely depleted.
England, who picked three debutants for the first time in more than eight years, were minus one after fast bowler Boyd Rankin twice limped out of the attack mid-over with a hamstring injury.
Another, Borthwick, was hauled off after his first three overs cost 21 runs against Haddin and Smith in full cry - but did return to snare Johnson as his maiden Test wicket, caught by substitute fielder Joe Root under a skier at long on.
By then, much damage had been done to England's aspirations - and even after Stokes took three wickets in an over, Smith last out caught at mid on, Australia were still in charge.
It had all been going so well for the tourists - as was the case in at least three previous Tests before Haddin broke their hearts.
Stokes struck twice, and Stuart Broad and James Anderson once each, this morning after Cook gambled on initial cloud cover to help his seamers cash in on a green tinge in the pitch.
Broad then saw off George Bailey cheaply just after lunch, at the height of what was to prove another false dawn.
It began, with a hint of swing and useful bounce for all, when Broad first of all eliminated the prolific David Warner; then Stokes doubled up with Chris Rogers and Australia captain Michael Clarke, before Shane Watson fell to Anderson and the final ball of a hectic morning.
Broad was threatening wickets from the outset, while Anderson bowled a more conservative length with the new ball from the Paddington End.
Warner had just taken three fours from Broad's previous over, and passed 500 runs for the series, when he paid little respect to a decent delivery which beat a flaky shot and hit the top of off-stump.
Rogers also picked the wrong length against Stokes, and under-edged a pull via his pads on to the base of leg-stump.
Next, Stokes got Clarke with a delivery that kicked from just short of a good length to have him edging to Ian Bell at second slip.
Watson had got under way by driving his first delivery from Broad through extra-cover for four, and continued in similar vein against Stokes.
But Anderson returned to have the counter-attacking number three lbw, playing round his front pad, an echo of last summer - back when England had Australia just where they wanted them.
It seemed they did again at last when Bailey ended a brief and unimpressive stay by edging Broad to a juggling Cook at slip.
But Haddin, and Smith, had other ideas.
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