Action: third Test December 14, 2006

Fletcher and Flintoff own up

Today two proud men finally admitted that they had made a mistake

Today two proud men finally admitted that they had made a mistake. England’s team sheet had 11 names on it, but it boiled down to two words: mea culpa. By picking Monty Panesar and Sajid Mahmood, Messrs Fletcher and Flintoff conceded that they were wrong, and the rest of us were right.

Monty then went out and proved it, with a large helping of luck. He didn’t bowl as well as he can, but after all the brouhaha, he did well to bowl as well as he did. And he has earned some good fortune after handling the frustrations of the past few weeks with amazing good humour. Even after today’s triumph, he was still saying: “The selectors know what’s best for the team. I trust their judgment.” Which was highly magnanimous. And showed why he, among others, would have been a better pick for BBC Sports Personality of the Year than the talented, but not as yet very colourful, Zara Phillips.

Fletcher and Flintoff may have blundered in the faith they showed in Ashley Giles, but they were vindicated today in their decision to stick by Steve Harmison. One of the best things about Fletcher’s England is that, unlike some of their predecessors, they usually rise to the challenge of fast pitches. This wasn’t an absolute Perth trampoline, but it was yards quicker than the Adelaide dustbowl.

The last time England saw anything like it was at Old Trafford five months ago, when Panesar and Steve Harmison destroyed Pakistan. Then, they took nine for 40 between them; here, nine for 140, with Harmison – helped by the umpires – collecting his first overseas four-for since West Indies 2004. In the second innings at Old Trafford, Panesar and Harmison went one better and took all ten. It’s early days, but Panesar has shown a glimpse of something Shane Warne has in spades: the ability to team up, lethally, with a fast bowler, using bounce more than turn, and thus impose himself on a Test match from the start.

The pitch was sporting. The central figure was sporting. The underdogs barked, but the favourites fought back. The Aussies are still favourites, and it will be no surprise if they reassert themselves tomorrow. But this was just the sort of day the series needed.

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

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