Australia v England, 2nd Test, Adelaide, 4th day December 4, 2006

Heading for a draw but certainly no bore

The Adelaide pitch isn't one the bowlers will want to take with them © Getty Images
England's first objective of this match is almost in the bag. After that chastening series opener at Brisbane, Matthew Hoggard hedged his bets on the eve of the second Test and said that it was important "not to lose". At the time it seemed an understandable sentiment, given that there are still three Tests to come after this and all manner of momentum to be won and lost, but somewhat timid nonetheless. Over the past four days, however, England have demonstrated the importance of taking stock. In a hectic world, and an even more hectic international calendar, the chance for a bit of breathing space does not go amiss. Even in the heat of an Ashes battle.

Barring miracles, this match is destined to be the highest scoring draw in 42 years of Ashes history. Not since Bobby Simpson made 311 at Old Trafford in 1964 have both teams gone past 500 in their first innings, and it is arguably a good 20 years since an Ashes match finished as a genuine and resounding stalemate. That was once again at Adelaide, on Mike Gatting's tour in 1986-87, when 514 played 455 and nobody blinked until stumps. Since then, if you discount the circumstantial tension at The Oval last summer, it has generally been one side or the other in the ascendancy when time or bad weather has brought about a premature end.

In recent contests the draw has meant one of two things. Either a chance for a rare England victory has been foiled by greater Australian knowhow - Old Trafford 2005, Sydney 1994-95, Trent Bridge 1993. Or else bad weather has swept in and robbed Australia of another crushing victory - Brisbane 1998-99 and Lord's 1997 are classics of that genre. This match, however, is likely to turn into something else entirely. A fair-dinkum stalemate, to use the vernacular. It's rather a throwback.

Not everyone is too disappointed with the situation we've got in store for tomorrow. Angus Fraser, a man who in his time would have taken a Hoggardish pride in giving nothing away on the deadest of featherbeds, pointed out today that this result reminds us all how spoilt we've been in recent times. And it is true, but only up to a point. Everyone with an interest in the game was hoping for a re-run of the 2005 series. It is a pity that two teams so evenly matched (once England had overcome their stage fright) will probably end up being too evenly matched for the conditions. The spice of the surfaces last summer was what made the year so memorable.

The justification for Ashley Giles's retention ahead of Monty Panesar is slipping by the day

England began the day with a genuine chance, but the determination of Michael Clarke and Adam Gilchrist was such that Andrew Flintoff opted out of the attack after just four overs. Whether he felt a niggle or was just being prudent, and Duncan Fletcher implied that it was both, it was evidence that England are in this contest for the long haul. They saw no need to panic and in Matthew Hoggard, England's dogsbody par excellence, they had the ideal man to mop up Australia's resistance. After managing just ten wickets for 804 runs at Brisbane last week, to gain a lead and bowl the Aussies out was the sort of minor psychological victory that will have been stored up for later contests.

It is not all plain sailing for England, however. The justification for Ashley Giles's retention ahead of Monty Panesar is slipping by the day, and Kevin Pietersen's apparent mastery of Shane Warne lends further weight to the theory that England should just back their best specialists in each department and trust them to deliver the goods. And while James Anderson was talked up by his coach for providing a "skiddy" threat throughout this contest, his combined figures for the series are now 2 for 280 from almost 60 overs. He is, in fact, proving as hittable in these conditions as Hoggard himself was the last time he toured Australia in 2002-03.

But it is Australia who have the big calls to make. Is Glenn McGrath fit enough to continue, especially if Perth proves as flat as these conditions have been? Does Michael Clarke's new-found coolness under pressure mean the end for Damien Martyn, and is Shane Watson really the answer to their bowling problems? This match might be destined for a draw, but given the rare luxury of a five-Test series, even a bore-draw doesn't have to be boring.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo