Second Test, Adelaide December 6, 2006

England's 'good cricket' makes failure worse

England’s good cricket doesn’t redeem its failure; it makes the failure worse.

Uncertainty is a glorious feature of cricket – except occasionally when you’re writing about it. Such an occasion has just been had, when almost to a man the media consigned the Adelaide Test to the oblivion of a drawn, only to see Ricky Ponting’s team turn around and win it. I didn’t explicitly tip a draw, but I didn’t think Ponting had done enough to win it – nor did I think Australia really deserved to. I’ll leave being wise after the event to others. It’s time to grab that mirror and take a good hard look at myself!

I didn’t think England would be as bad as at Brisbane. In fact, they were better for four days and hugely worse on the last, so I can’t take much credit for that. I didn’t think the toss would be decisive, any more than it was during the very similar Test here three years ago between Australia and India; on the other hand, I also believed that Australia had been shut out of the game by the second evening. Poor mad fool.

In a podcast before the game, I said that Les Burdett prepared his pitches with a result in mind in the last hour of the last day, and I thought the pitch played pretty fairly throughout: the best bowlers of the first four days, Clark and Hoggard, got the results. So I refrained from writing a ‘these pitches are destroying Test cricket’ piece. Phew.

Mind you, I also expressed the belief that Australia on the fourth day had reverted to a bad habit of indulging individuals at the game’s expense, and dawdled towards the end of their innings, intent on preserving their series lead rather than striving to extend it: an admission of some weakness. I was surprised that Ponting didn’t do more to make England uncomfortable, whether by pushing on more obviously, declaring earlier, or opening the bowling in the second innings with Warne supported by a flock of close-in fielders, perhaps with Clark at the other end. I expected Warne to be a threat on the last day, but didn’t believe he’d been given enough time to do his thing. So I bollocksed that up. Actually, this wasn’t one of those relentlessly efficient Australian wins of yore. Five players contributed next to nothing. The batting is frightfully dependent on Ponting and Hussey. The bowling is still reliant on Warne’s varying humours; McGrath’s spell on Tuesday was embarrassing. But by golly, they trailed that whiff of victory like a bloodhound, a veritable Hound of the Baskervilles.

In one of his famous Roses despatches, Neville Cardus reported wending his way home after a disastrous Yorkshire collapse at Headingley, and being accosted at Leeds railway station by a local eager for the cricket score. Lancastrian Cardus perkily reported that Yorkshire had been rounded up for less than 100 and slumped to heavy defeat. His interlocutor looked grave. After a pause, he said finally: ‘They did that, did they? Ah thowt better of them.’ Well, having seen them play with such spunk and spirit last year, I thought better of England. You always overvalue that which you see with your own eyes. Having not seen England choke in similar circumstances at Multan a year ago, I did not factor it in as a precedent. This leads me to suspect that we’ve all underestimated the significance of Michael Vaughan, behind whose veneer of civility lurks a far steelier individual than Andrew Flintoff. Vaughan would not have trotted out Flintoff’s daft line of reasoning last night, that the match was pretty good for England because they dominated so much of it. England’s good cricket doesn’t redeem its failure; it makes the failure worse.

Gideon Haigh is a cricket historian and writer

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