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

Australia's giants drop to their knees

Shane Warne: toiling as he has rarely toiled in Tests © Getty Images

Where Warne bowled to Pietersen

Australia's cricketers will have regrouped in their dressing-room this evening with a very chastening thought on their minds. Contrary to all the evidence so far on this tour - in the media, in the stands and, at Brisbane, on the pitch - it is England who hold the Ashes, and they are not going to be handed over without a fight. That was the message that emanated from the shop floor on the eve of this match, as Andrew Flintoff gathered his troops for a dose of "honesty", and that was the message that was delivered en masse to a fascinated and packed crowd on the second day at Adelaide.

England dug deep today, deep into their reserves of determination, but even deeper into the Australians' psyche. In compiling their magnificent 310-run stand for the fourth wicket, Paul Collingwood and Kevin Pietersen touched statistical heights not seen in English Ashes campaigns since the days of Hobbs and Rhodes, and Hutton and Leyland, but more importantly, they ground two Australian champions into the South Australia dust.

Shane Warne has never taken a more expensive one-wicket haul in his long and illustrious career. His first-innings effort of 1 for 167 eclipsed two of his most painful sporting memories - his 1 for 150 on Test debut at Sydney, and his 1 for 152 at Kolkata in Laxman's Test. Almost throughout his 53-over stint, he wheeled away from around the wicket to the mighty-hitting Pietersen, aiming at the rough in the manner so derided of Ashley Giles last summer. When he did finally strike after 46 overs of unrewarded toil, he raised barely a flicker of emotion. It was reminiscent of Ian Salisbury's lone strike against Pakistan in 2000-01.

And yet, Warne's dog day was not a patch on Glenn McGrath's. He was dismembered by Pietersen from the moment he was cracked for three pre-emptive fours in his opening over of the day. Doubts about his heel hung over him like a dirty cloud as he returned his worst innings figures in Test history, surpassing the 0 for 86 he contributed to the cause at Old Trafford last summer, when he had been rushed back early from his famous ankle-ricking at Edgbaston.

Despite Ricky Ponting's pre-match protestations that he could not play unless he was 100 percent fit, play he did, and regret he did as well. Suddenly it really was like 2005 all over again - not in terms of the personnel on display or the speed of England's scoring, but rather the messages that were being sent out from each camp.

For the second time in two series, the veneer of invincibility was scraped away from Australia's attack, almost as rapidly as it had been spray-painted back on against the World XI last October. Without Warne and McGrath at their best, the rest were devoid of menace, not least the anodyne Lee whose average against England is now pushing up towards 50. Only Stuart Clark - "Stuart Who?" of last summer's Sun headlines - looked anything like a threat in this innings.

For all their brilliance today, England still might not be able to win this Test. Adelaide's reputation as a batsman's paradise hasn't exactly suffered over the past two days, and a hint of uneven bounce is unlikely to unsettle a team that compiled 804 runs for ten wickets in their last outing against England. But the weight of expectation coupled with the weight of England's runs will test their resolve to the limit. In terms of laying down a marker for the rest of the series, England are now steaming in from the sightscreen. Andrew Flintoff's strike with the new ball was a massive moment, because it was a reminder that England's attack are still capable of attack. Maybe even a reminder to Steve Harmison as well.

England might have believed after Brisbane that this series was turning into Mission Impossible, and yet the intense will shown by Collingwood and Pietersen has wrenched back the psychological high ground as surely as Harmison's wide surrendered it last week. For Collingwood, the supposed weak link in England's batting, it was a day to savour, as he suddenly found himself transformed from a bit-part player to a man worthy of sharing a pedestal with the great Wally Hammond.

And talking of weak links, England's weakest of all, Ashley Giles, is now their trump card - not because he is a better bowler than the overlooked Monty Panesar, but because he is the crucial fifth bowler that their opponents so desperately lacked. Even if he does return Warneish figures in the course of this innings, he will have done so with a quartet of twenty-something pacemen rotating from the other end. When Australia start sending SOSes to Shane Watson's fitness coach, you know that they are in trouble.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo