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Peter English at Adelaide
December 5, 2006
It wasn't just that England earned a record by scoring 551 in the first innings and losing. Nor that they let Australia escape through Ashley Giles' series-turning spill of Ricky Ponting early on day three. Not even that they were over-run by another Shane Warne concoction. What was so upsetting was the ease at which they turned from a team on the move into a rudderless, thoughtless, defensive outfit. Intent on survival, they virtually killed themselves and the Ashes contest.
With another run in each of the 54 overs delivered today they would have been safe and heading to Perth believing they could level the series. Instead they turtled at 1.3 an over, hit only four boundaries and need the miracle that occurred for Australia today. The Barmy Army chant of "we won the Ashes at The Oval" should soon be replaced with "we lost the Ashes at Adelaide Oval". A young Botham, a fit Vaughan and a borrowed Bradman are needed from here.
As Warne started to take hold England's batsmen played like midnight worriers who hope to wake with everything solved. As well as Australia performed - always remember a spectacular recovery and one of the finest victories of the Taylor-Waugh-Ponting era - it was excruciating to watch their opponents dissolve so meekly. From the start there was no attempt to make runs. For that they deserved to suffer.
The closing stages of day four had been bright but everything changed by morning. The attitude of Duncan Fletcher, all arm-folds and scowls, had infected the team. He wanted caution. Wanted to wait and see what would happen in the opening session before deciding on an approach. By then it was almost too late. At 5 for 89 there was still space to recharge but after lunch it was the same bloody-mindedness.
Paul Collingwood defended like Trevor Bailey and showed no interest in protecting his lower-order until the last-gasp arrival of James Anderson. The breakthrough of the first-innings 206 was replaced by a breakdown. He remained not out on 22 but in the context of the result who cared?
Making runs, any runs, was more valuable than eating up time, although the methods were magnificently complementary. Collingwood faced 119 balls, struck two fours and let his team down. A half-century, even some intent to attack or a desire to hit something loose - there were opportunities - would have ensured more fame and a draw. Block, leave, pad-up, defend. Take a single, leave the tail-ender exposed, watch them scatter like the ground's seagulls.
Warne spun the ball wickedly, Steve Bucknor started the procession with a bad decision, but the rest was England's fault. Australia were set 168 in 36 overs when 200 might have been too many. It was not a cruise but once Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey steadied there was little doubt about a 2-0 lead. A seven, courtesy of a run three and four overthrows from Kevin Pietersen, added to English scowls and Australian boasts.
For any other team the thought of a win would have died two days ago. John Buchanan sounded like a crackpot on Saturday when he suggested a step-by-step walk to victory. A day later Ponting spoke about how confident they would be when chasing. The hyperbole became reality.
Fletcher just sat on his hands. He wanted to let the game unfold instead of influence it. England no longer require his blinkered vision. This was a fantastic result for Australia but a disaster for such a marquee series.
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