So near yet so far
Australia's first "live" Ashes loss since Edgbaston '97 was praised as a brave effort by their newspapers, but underneath the headlines deeper concerns about Ricky Ponting's team were raised. The game is destined to be remembered as one of the recent greats alongside the MCG Test of '82-83 and the Adelaide contest of '92-93. However, there were also warnings for the teams entering Thursday's Test at Old Trafford locked at one-all.
"Aussie agony, England ecstasy," said Queensland's The Courier-Mail while its News Ltd stable-mate, the Sydney-based Daily Telegraph, went with, "So near yet so far: Now we have a real Ashes". "Three lousy runs would have meant a group of senior Australia players would have been able to leave the game without losing an Ashes tour because England would have been 50/1 pops to win the Ashes if it had gone 2-0 down," Robert Craddock wrote in a comment piece. "Now, suddenly, everyone is under the pump because England is as buoyant as it has ever been."
The papers also carried a story titled "Five reasons for defeat" that listed the toss, Flintoff's fireworks, fielding, where was help for Warne and lack of patience as Australia's problems. "Ponting was slow to react to England's hard hitting in the first innings, very slow in fact, but woke up in the second with some defensive fields of his own," it said. "By then, Australia were chasing their tail."
"Brave Aussies fall just short" was the front-page headline of The Australian while the main sport report tackled Ponting's concerns. "The lack of value placed on their wickets by a number of Australia batsmen smacked of a team whose steely self-belief has slowly evolved into a sense of invincibility which becomes more of a weakness than a strength when the opposition is equally competent," it said. "Not only is this England team competent, it is the only team of the past five years which can compete on equal terms."
The Sydney Morning Herald ran a piece on its website asking "Was Kasper out?" Carrying a freeze-frame graphic and replaying the delivery, the paper reports Michael Kasprowicz's hand was not touching the handle when Steve Harmison's short ball brushed it. "Had Kasprowicz been given not out, would Australia have pulled off the most remarkable of victories," it asked. "We will never know."
Peter Roebuck, the paper's columnist, praised Andrew Flintoff - "this viking of a cricketer" - and dismissed the top-order worries. "Veterans finding fault with the batting had a point but the dismissals were merely the reverse of the aggression that turned an expected rout into a memorable confrontation," he said. "Players cannot be congratulated for daring to attack and chided for chancing their arm. This was a magnificent contest and the rest is for the tiddlers."
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo