Stoneman's courage lays base for Malan's milestone

Nannes: I still don't think Stoneman hit it (1:53)

Dirk Nannes and Melinda Farrell discuss whether or not Mark Stoneman should have been given out and how hard he battled (1:53)

During a title fight in 1965, the ringside doctor intervened to check on the welfare of the light-heavyweight champion, Willie Pastrano. "Do you know where you are?" the doc asked. "Damn right I know where I am," came the reply. "I'm in Madison Square Garden getting the shit kicked out of me."

While the answer Mark Stoneman gave Craig de Weyman, the England team physio, might have differed slightly you suspect the sentiment was the same. Stoneman, the England opener, had just sustained a thumping blow to the side of his head to an excellent bouncer from Josh Hazlewood. While Stoneman's helmet absorbed the worst of it and his answers assuaged de Weyman's fear that he may have sustained a concussion, he was still rattled. Both physically and mentally.

The passage of play in which Stoneman was hit, dropped and finally dismissed was brutal and brilliant. It was a reminder that, for all the charms of the game, there are few spectacles as thrilling - few that offer the peril and nerve-wracking adrenalin surge - as watching a batsman trying to withstand fast bowlers on fast surface. It was a reminder, too, that for all the faults of this stadium - its lack of cover, its lack of plumbing, its lack of space - its pitch is, at its best, a thing of beauty. Its pace and bounce encourages attractive, vibrant cricket. It was wonderfully entertaining. Unless, of course, you were an England batsman.

The problem of facing the short ball is unlike any other in cricket. As Jonathan Trott, reflecting on his experiences of dealing with Mitchell Johnson in 2013, put it in his book: "If you are struggling on off stump, people talk about your technique. If you are struggling with the short ball, they talk about your courage. I felt I was being questioned as a man. I felt my dignity was being stripped away with every short ball I ducked or parried. It was degrading."

There should be no doubting Stoneman's courage. His problem is that he rarely (at this level, at least) hooks or pulls. And while he ducks the shortest of the bouncers, he generally tries to ride the bounce of other short balls and play them down.

In most circumstances that method is probably serviceable. In most circumstances, he will face one or two quick bowlers in a side - the likes of Chris Morris for South Africa or Shannon Gabriel for West Indies - and in most circumstances the pitch will take so much out of bowlers when they attempt such a barrage, the batsman will know they need only survive a session or so and life will become easier.

But here, against an attack containing three quick bowlers and on a surface offering an unusual amount of bounce, Stoneman's approach caused him all sorts of problems. So even though he saw off Hazlewood's terrific spell, he won no respite, instead facing Mitchell Starc who eventually bowled the ball that dismissed him.

Three times before that the ball had taken his glove or the splice of the bat. And while it fell to safety - Nathan Lyon was unable to cling on to a tough chance running in from point - the ball could have gone anywhere. Another time he had to change his bat after the force of the ball at the top of the splice broke it. Everything about the way he played the short ball encouraged them to bowl him another one.

But while he was drawn into a couple of loose drives when enticed by the full ball, not for a moment did he hint at backing away or attempting to thrash his way out of trouble.

His method contrasted sharply with that of Dawid Malan. After a nervous start which saw him take eight balls to get off the mark and then slash one short ball over slip and prod another just out of reach of short leg, Malan decided he might as well take the bouncer on.

Attempting to pull or hook pretty much anything short, his third boundary actually came off his helmet - there was no sign of bat on the replays - and he then top-edged a hook over the keeper's head for six.

What he did really well was retain his composure and ensure that, when the full ball came along, his feet moved well enough to either defend it or drive it. But it was probably fitting, in an innings characterised by how he played the short ball, that he brought up his century with a pull for four.

All this represented a bit of a change of approach from him. After falling to the pull in Brisbane, he decided not to play the shot in Adelaide. When he went out to bat on Thursday, he again had no intention of playing the stroke. But then the short ball started coming and he realised, his best method of defence was attack.

"I started not wanting to take the shot on," Malan said. "I didn't take it on in Adelaide when Starc went round the wicket.

"But I felt it put me in a better position when I did take the shot on. Or look to take it on. You still have to be selective. But luckily the one I made a mistake on went for six today.

"I made a misjudgement with the ball I was out to in Brisbane. But if you nick a drive, you don't stop playing it. You just become smarter at when you do play it."

Whose method - Malan's or Stoneman's - was better? Neither were perfect and both endured some nervous moments. Good fast bowling exposes flaws.

But Stoneman's efforts were not wasted. When Malan late-cut a ball from Steven Smith's part-time legspin for three or Jonny Bairstow ran one from the fast-medium Mitchell Marsh down to third man for four in the final session, it was, in part, Stoneman who deserved the credit. Batting became substantially easier after the ball was 40 or so overs old and when, for the first time in the series, the Australian seamers began to show a few signs of wear - their pace, while still sharp, had dropped by up to 10% by the end of the day and while Starc was seen feeling his left side, Pat Cummins looked as if he were limping just a little - it was Stoneman who had put some of those miles in their legs.

So Malan will take the plaudits for his fine century. But it's a team game and, in the England dressing room they will know, the fortitude and courage showed by Stoneman laid many of the foundations on which Malan and co. could build.