Heading for a draw but certainly no bore
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|
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