Pietersen digs in for England

Kevin Pietersen dug in admirably to try to stop Australia taking control yet again on a hard-fought first day at the MCG.

In front of a world-record 90,000-plus crowd, breaking a 52-year-old previous best at this same cavernous ground, England set aside any aspirations of thrills and spills in search of a vital foothold in the fourth Ashes Test.

The urn is gone already, of course, but damage limitation - specifically avoiding a series whitewash - will be no mean feat from 3-0 down for Alastair Cook's tourists.

After losing the toss, there was no hiding place as Australia set out to expose more English weaknesses under cloud cover on a pitch tinged with green.

It did not misbehave noticeably, however, and Pietersen (67no) did just enough - despite two late wickets with the second new ball for Mitchell Johnson - to keep England marginally competitive on 226 for six.

He had fortune on his side in a hard-earned three-hour half-century, mishooking on seven off the again-impressive and miserly Ryan Harris only for the ball to be carried over the boundary for six by substitute fielder Nathan Coulter-Nile.

Then on 41, Harris almost had him once more but this time saw a diving George Bailey unable to hold on to a pull at mid-wicket.

Pietersen's 119-ball 50 contained some characteristic drama, for good measure, as he took unscheduled time out mid-over after being dropped by Bailey - for an ailment which was unclear, with some suggesting he had swallowed a fly.

England needed Pietersen to fire, for the first time in the series, having lost Cook during a gloomy morning - and then, as the skies cleared after lunch, Michael Carberry and Joe Root were also unable to make a substantial contribution.

The scoring rate was stilted for long periods, as a disciplined four-man seam attack - including all-rounder Shane Watson, until he limped out mid-over with an apparent recurrence of hamstring issues - gave the batsmen precious little.

After England's unequal struggles in the first three Tests, it seemed Cook began by trying to set a more adventurous tone, making the most of some loose deliveries in Johnson's two-over burst with the new ball.

Peter Siddle's first stint from the Great Southern Stand end was also short-lived, and it was hard to believe it was Michael Clarke's Plan A to be introducing off-spinner Nathan Lyon after only nine overs.

After Cook's quick start, Carberry claimed a near fair share of their opening stand until the captain departed to a poor shot - drawn into playing at some extra bounce at Siddle and edging to Clarke at second slip.

Two setbacks for the tourists either side of afternoon drinks were followed by a near stalemate as Pietersen and Ian Bell dug in at the start of a dogged half-century stand.

As at least twice previously in the series, a change of angle brought Carberry's downfall.

The left-hander survived one ball from Watson, round the wicket, but was gone to the next when he judged he could leave only to lose his off bail thanks to a deviation off the pitch.

Root shrugged aside several plays and misses, but it was all to no avail when he got a thin edge behind to a teasing Harris outswinger with the first ball of a new spell.

Bell and Pietersen then chose survival over counter-attack, the latter's cross-bat smash over mid-wicket for four off Siddle his only scoring shot from the first 38 balls he faced.

Bell was equally determined until he was uprooted by another outstanding delivery from Harris, nipping away off the pitch to take the outside edge for caught-behind on the back-foot defence.

When Ben Stokes then fell immediately to the second new ball, going hard in defence against Johnson but merely edging straight to slip, the door was ajar to Australia again.

Jonny Bairstow was not up to the task, having replaced the out-of-form Matt Prior here, bowled through the gate as Johnson cranked up the pace.

But with Pietersen still there at stumps, England nonetheless retained hope of better to come.

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