December 5, 2006

Action: second Test

England beaten by three phenomenal players

Tim de Lisle
Australia celebrate as Shane Warne bowls Kevin Pietersen, Australia v England, 2nd Test, Adelaide, December 5, 2006
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Well that was a rude awakening for England fans on a blustery morning – but what a scintillating performance by Australia. In Steve Waugh's time, the Aussies used to say that it should take something special to beat them. As England lick their wounds, they can at least tell themselves that the same applied: it took something very special to beat them.

They were defeated today by their own timidity, but also by three phenomenal players, two of them bang in form, one returning to it. Shane Warne, who had been at his worst over the weekend, ricocheted back to his best. Outrageous fortune supplied his first wicket as Andrew Strauss was given out caught off his pad. Outrageous willpower did the rest, with help from some skilled reverse-swing from a revitalised Brett Lee. Pride, which had come before Warne’s fall, came swiftly after it too: he may even have been fired up by the stick he took in the press. His wickets in this series have come at a most uncharacteristic cost – an average of 40, and a strike rate of 85 – yet he has still produced two vital four-fors.

The two men in form were Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey. On a day when everybody else either got out or scratched around, they made a hundred between them off only 124 balls, and added a nerve-settling, gate-closing, match-deciding 83 off 16 overs. Ponting’s 49 was almost a failure by his current Elysian standards, but it was just what was needed. Hussey has batted three times in this series, and every time he has built a crucial partnership with Ponting. Today he showed his extraordinary flexibility by abandoning his Test-match grafting and slipping into one-day finisher mode. He was Allan Border in the first innings and Michael Bevan in the second.

Meanwhile England had frozen. Their aggression, so calculated under Michael Vaughan, has gone badly awry. Today they scored only 70 runs off 54 overs. Even allowing for the pitch, that sort of progress was just dreadful. There were plenty of gaps in the field, but they couldn’t find them. After defying gravity for two innings, they finally suffered for their unbalanced batting order – four grafters followed by two big-hitters. Kevin Pietersen, majestic in the first innings, was humbled today. Rob Smyth, over on the Guardian site, spotted that he had said in his book, “I see no way Shane can bowl me round my legs”. Hubris and Nemesis again.

Paul Collingwood, after the euphoria of the first innings, was thrust back into his role of two months ago in the Champions Trophy – the last man standing, scraping an unbeaten 20, the housemate who always clears up the mess. Except that this was too big a mess for one person to clear up. His Steve Waugh-like tendencies do not yet extend to being able to take the tail by the scruff of the neck.

In extreme situations, home truths emerge. It was telling that Hussey was promoted above Damien Martyn. And it was telling that Steve Harmison and James Anderson were virtual spectators. So much comes down to selection. If Australia had been ruthless with their middle order in 2005 and sent for Hussey, they would surely have clung on to the Ashes. Having him now has put them in charge this time.

If England had played a full bowling attack in these two Tests … well, it surely wouldn’t have been this bad. Harmison, Anderson and Giles have taken six for 853 in the series. No team can afford that. The price they have paid for dropping two young bowlers who were doing well, in Panesar and Mahmood, has been an awfully high one.

But it would be wrong to write about England's mistakes without acknowledging my own. Yesterday I wrote as if the game had already been drawn, which was a howler. To those who have written in gleefully pointing this out, I can only say: it's a fair gloat. If I had Photoshop on my computer, you'd see some egg on that picture in the top right-hand corner.

Tim de Lisle is the editor of Intelligent Life magazine and a former editor of Wisden

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Posted by marcus on (December 9, 2006, 22:40 GMT)

Just two points. Firstly, Giles actually took more wickets than Panesar in the warm-up. I think Panesar was and is the better bowler, but at the time Giles was more in form.

Second, all Fletcher did in Adelaide was do exactly what he did last year. It didn't work with nhindsight, but all he was actually doing was using a tried-and-tested means of judging his selections.

Maybe they should replace Giles with Panesar for the next test, keep Anderson (who just took three wickets at Perth) and if one of the fast bowlers fails to fire, then replace THEM with Giles and go with the twin spin attack for Melbourne and Sydney.

Posted by SD on (December 9, 2006, 4:37 GMT)

The english batsmen looked so pathetic even the Zimbabwe bowlers would've rolled them over in the second innings! and they made a hero out of Warne who was truly no where near his best. And the worst was selecting Giles ahead of Panesar after his performence in the first match. and finally, Aussies must thank Steve Bucknor for changing the match. Strausses dismissel was atrocious! It really turned the match upside down.

Posted by K.D on (December 9, 2006, 1:11 GMT)

This Australian Cricket Team are & have been a great champion team. So much went England's way 2005, McGrath Australia's champion strike bowler injured at a critical time, Pieterson dropped at critical stages early on in his innings of 158 in the final test, Ponting's blunder to send England in the second test etc etc. I hear alot of excuses why England performed poorly this match, selection & so on. Truth of the matter England are a reasonable side with potential compared to what they've fielded for decades but definetely not what alot of people have got them cracked up to be. In the Australian outfit we are witnessing the twilight of probably the best cricket team ever & even with maybe the fading skills of some of their champions they are still able to crush & rip out the heart & spirit of a unit sent here to challenge this champion & wound & leave scars for seasons to come potentially. England take heart with the imminent retirement of some of Australia's key players soon to come, your opportunities will come but just make sure you never compare yourself to what this Australian team is & has been. Damain Martyn congratulations on your classy career.

Posted by Anshuman on (December 8, 2006, 20:44 GMT)

This or that. We can go to any extent of shredding the loosers and praising the victor. Outcome in cricket also depends on the performance of the day. If viewed individually, each Englishman has performed well but together they could not make a collective effort to breach the aussies. What is needed is the collective and timely effort by the Englishmen to give aussies a bolt

Posted by George on (December 8, 2006, 12:41 GMT)

The parrots who keep saying Chris Read, Monty Panesar or (snort) Sajid Mahmood were the difference between winning and losing and drawing are clearly incapable of analysing evidence or thinking for themselves. Geraint Jones kept quite capably on this tour, nothing like the fumbler we saw in 2005. His only howler in Adelaide came when the match was already lost. While he didn't take any particularly spectacular catches, he showed remarkable courage and reflexes in standing up at the wicket to the quicks, without conceding too many byes. I saw Panesar, Mahmood & Anderson bowl in the preliminary tour matches. Although the batsmen treated Panesar with deference as demonstrated by his economical bowling, he held few terrors for them. As for the hapless Sajid Mahmood, all I can say is that his only positive contribution would have been to make Anderson look good by comparison had he played in the Test. Again, check his figures in the tour matches. Anderson seemed to do OK in the prelims, so use that as your benchmark.

As for declaring at 550, without hindsight that was completely sensible. Had they declared for 700 on the morning of the 3rd day and the match been drawn, those same critics would have asked why they waited so long, and why they threw away the chance to square the series, and why they put the Aussie batsmen in when they were fresh rather than at the end of a tiring day in the field. And it's all too easy from one's armchair to say that England should have played Mr 700 Wickets more aggressively on Day 5 when he was spinning the ball at 90 degrees. I'd like to see how the critics play the Pietersen ball. If anything was to blame it was the overly defensive batting when conditions were good, and Simon Jones's absence, and the change in umpiring bias to pro-Australian from extreme anti-Australian in 2005. This was a 4 runs per over pitch on days 1-3.

Posted by JonJon on (December 8, 2006, 12:30 GMT)

Tim, I have bad news for you mate - I do not believe Penasar, Mahmood or Read will make one bit of difference to this series. It's not about skill now it's all about pure mental ability. Ricky learned his craft under the most ruthless captain of all - stepping on the throat of the opposition at their most vulnerable.

Posted by Bob on (December 8, 2006, 10:04 GMT)

Well. I called time on Hayden, Langer and Martyn after the first day of the first test. I was heavily attacked by the Aussie faithful on here.

1 down; 2 to go.

It also seems that Flintoff, the ultimate team player, is being neutered by being given a position that sets him apart from that team. The more I think about it the more disastrous the decision to make him captain seems. I won't lie either, I also thought it was a terrible decision to make Vaughan captain when he was the best batsmen in the world. It turned out that Vaughan was a good captain. Hindsight is wonderful. But we need to leave our most talented players to prosper.

What is the betting that when Flintoff drops out for injury and Strauss is made captain the vice-captaincy goes to... Pieterson? It would be, to most, unthinkably stupid, but could very well happen.

Posted by Big Ask on (December 8, 2006, 9:19 GMT)

I have to take issue with those who criticize Giles. I don't mean Giles's selection (Monty should be playing for sure), I mean the man himself. He doesn't pick the team, DF and Freddie do. Ask yourself: if you were an average player, with bills and a mortgage to pay etc, and you were picked, what would you do? At the end of the day these guys have to earn a living. Most of us know work colleagues who try hard, aren't up to the job but they're still there. Do we blame them? No, we blame whoever in management hired them. Giles tries hard, you don't see his head going down when things get tough unlike eg Harmison. He simply isn't good enough. And if anyone suggests he should voluntarily withdraw like Martyn, I'd say (a) away tours don't work like that, (b) Martyn proved himself as a class act over many years while Giles clearly has not. Martyn saw himself going downhill, Giles was never up the hill in the first place.

Blame the selectors by all means, they totally deserve it, but not the man himself.

Posted by Stephen Ralph on (December 8, 2006, 5:29 GMT)

Why doesnt Fletcher go one step further and call for Gough, Caddick, Ramprakash etc seeing as they are the only ones that are performing in County??? ;)

Posted by Pritam on (December 8, 2006, 3:02 GMT)

Re. Strauss's unlucky moment with the umpire. Has everyone forgotten the number of times Martyn and a few of the other Aussies were stuffed by bad calls in 2005? This Ashes series has been remarkable for good umpiring so far.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tim de Lisle
Tim de Lisle is a former editor of Wisden. He fell in love with newspapers at the age of seven and with cricket at the age of 10. He started in journalism at 16, reviewing records for the London Australian Magazine, before reading classics at Oxford and writing for Smash Hits, Harpers & Queen and the Observer. He has been a feature writer on the Daily Telegraph, arts editor of the Times and the Independent on Sunday, and editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly, where he won an Editor of the Year award. Since 1999, Tim has been the rock critic of the Mail on Sunday. He is deputy editor of Intelligent Life, the new general-interest magazine from the Economist. He writes for the Guardian and makes frequent appearances as a cricket pundit on the BBC and Sky News.

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