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August 5, 2005
Wisdom after the event is a journalist's favourite get-out clause, but today - thanks to their momentously raucous batting on the first day of this Test - it was England's cricketers who wore the smug look of a side whose conviction should never have been questioned. Showered with brickbats for their capitulation at Lord's, they have responded with wonderful character at Edgbaston, to engineer themselves a platform for their most remarkable victory of a remarkable 18 months.
Shane Warne's late, great, intercession in the final over of the day was a timely reminder of the task that still lies ahead, but the verve with which Marcus Trescothick climbed into Australia's seamers suggests that more of the same might be in store tomorrow. The fast lane is the only lane for England's batsmen at present - the pundits will implore them to slow down and watch out for the sharp bends that are sure to lie ahead but, with Australia's traffic cop away on sick leave, the boy racers are only just warming up.
England have decided to take Australia on in a full-throttle game of chicken, because for the first time in living memory, they have a bowling attack that is more than the sum of their opponents'. There are five of them for a start (and here comes that nugget of journalistic wisdom - Ashley Giles, how could we ever have doubted you?) but they are also wonderfully varied and, as was in evidence today, impressively skilful as well.
It was Brian Lara last summer who, while Steve Harmison was sweeping all before him, infamously questioned whether England had a Plan B to cover his off-days. Today, Plans B, C, D and yes, even E, all combined to bring Australia's brash batting to its knees. Had it not been for the unfeasibly gutsy batting of Justin Langer - who once again wore more deliveries than he middled in a blood-and-sweat 82 - England could have been looking at a lead of follow-on proportions.
While their batsmen will continue to play by the seat of their pants all series, England's bowlers are actually a cannier mob than they let on. They were watching and learning as Brett Lee banged it in and got belted round the park at six-and-a-half runs an over and, with the honorable exception of Mr Plan A himself (who recognised early on that this was not the pitch for him, used every ounce of the new ball to bludgeon Langer into submission, then retired to fine-leg) England pitched it up, nibbled it around, and waited for the errors. Nothing ingenious, but it was more than Australia were able to manage - and when were we last able to say that?
Matthew Hoggard nailed Matthew Hayden for the second time in the series, Simon Jones used the old ball to stunning effect, swinging both ways at will and ending Langer's vigil with a classic in-out, and Andrew Flintoff rounded off the day with two wonderful yorkers that were reminiscent of Darren Gough's match-clinchers at Melbourne in 1998-99. Australia still hurtled along at more than four runs an over, but somehow that suited England fine - in the 1980s and 1990s, the best way to distract West Indies from the task of winning was to draw them into a bouncer warfare; nowadays, a boundary barrage could just be the answer for the Aussies.
But the star of England's show, in a delicious slap in the face for critics the world over, was Giles. Before the series, Terry Alderman suggested that any batsman who got out to Giles should go hang themselves. Quite what Ricky Ponting will be doing this evening is anyone's guess - if he's not already feeling exposed by his erroneous decision to bowl first, he will be utterly aghast after that limp paddle to backward square-leg that cut off his rollicking 61 in its prime.
Giles was the perfect obstacle for a team in a rush. He suckered Michael Clarke with a clever change of pace and then splattered Warne's stumps with a regulation length ball, but nothing will give him more pleasure than the scalp of the skipper. Piqued by England's insolent batting, Ponting was the one Australian who really fought fire with fire - and he burnt his own fingers when a century seemed there for the taking.
Giles's haul of 130 Test wickets now includes some of England's most memorable dismissals in the past five years. Inzamam-ul-Haq at Karachi in 2000-01 to spark that legendary run-chase in the dark; Sachin Tendulkar's first stumping in Tests at Bangalore a year later; Brian Lara, bowled through the gate at Lord's last summer (Giles's 100th Test wicket); and now today's latest vindication. For a man who has to justify himself at every turn, he's got a pretty impressive CV.
But England bowled just as well at Lord's - and got scant reward. Today, however, one other factor was in evidence - that elusive Plan F(ielding).
One moment in particular had summed up the grim sense-of-humour failure that stalked the nation after the first Test. When asked to comment on the spate of dropped catches that had turned the game for Australia, Michael Vaughan shrugged and in an attempt at levity said: "It's usually me that drops them!" He prompted not even a suppressed guffaw from the assembled press corps.
Today, however, Vaughan was laughing on the other side of his face, as his pick-up-and-throw pinged down Damien Martyn's stumps on the stroke of lunch, and gave England the greatest pre-prandial fillip any side could want - short of discovering Battenberg cake waiting for them in the pavilion canteen, of course. Geraint Jones held his catches as well, and there were no tightened sinews towards the end either, when it seemed that Adam Gilchrist was about to launch into one of his all-too-familiar rescue acts. Two days gone, and two jobs well done for England. Day three cannot come soon enough, but don't blink, 'cos you might miss it.
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