Fletcher denies team has lost fight December 29, 2006

Where it went wrong for England

Brydon Coverdale

England were on top when Andrew Symonds joined Matthew Hayden at the crease © Getty Images

When Australia were 5 for 84 on day two at the MCG, it was tempting to believe England were finally fully switched on. Australia's danger men from the first three Tests, Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey, were back in the pavilion and England had the chance to take a first-innings lead despite their own modest total of 159.

What happened next can be looked at in two ways. Did Andrew Symonds and Matthew Hayden rip the game out of the visitors' hands with their initially careful and composed 279-run partnership? Or did England throw away their strong position with defensive field placements and strange bowling changes?

John Buchanan said it was another example of England's inconsistency. He said they had shown "glimpses" in each of the four Tests, but failed to capitalise each time. In the Adelaide Test, where Australia made a remarkable comeback to win after England declared at 551 in the first innings, he felt the visitors made their biggest mistake.

"England lost that Test in the first innings, not in the second innings," Buchanan said. "They laboured over 550 - played very cautiously. They had the opportunity there with players like Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff to impact on the game much earlier and if they were going to make 550 they could have made it much quicker than what they did."

When the series opened at Brisbane, Buchanan was impressed by England's performance in the fourth innings, although the match was virtually decided after their shambolic first innings of 157. "They made 370 in 100 overs, which I'm sure everyone thought was pretty encouraging," he said.

By the time the third Test at Perth came around, England could still not reach their best despite the impressive Ashes debut of Monty Panesar, who took eight wickets. Again, there were signs England could threaten Australia, but once more their efforts were not enough. "They managed to put together 350 in the second innings, which again was no mean feat," Buchanan said.

Buchanan's opposite number Duncan Fletcher admitted England had made mistakes but preferred to push the line that Australia had been simply too good. At 5 for 84 on Wednesday he felt Australia would be "very nervous", but Symonds and Hayden then played superbly. While they compiled the match-winning partnership Flintoff held back on his own potential match-winner, using Panesar only in short spells.

"He was probably trying to protect Panesar to a degree," Fletcher said. "He had two batters who love to hit it over the top. You've got to give credit - they [Symonds and Hayden] changed their plan and thought on their feet when they were out there."

He said his team had been devastated by the losses after admirable performances for parts of all four games. But Fletcher would not accept that his side lacked fight at Melbourne, even though they lost in three days and managed totals of 159 and 161.

"There's no way that side didn't put up a fight, they tried to the best of their ability," he said. "I think it was a very difficult wicket to bat on ... two guys arrive there and bat exceptionally well and take the game away from us."