England v Australia, 5th Test, The Oval, 3rd day September 10, 2005

An ominous precedent

For those English fans of a nervous disposition, there's something eerily unpalatable about Australia's current situation

Justin Langer: reprising his role of 2001 © Getty Images
For those English fans of a nervous disposition, there's something eerily unpalatable about Australia's current situation. At lunch, their score was 157 for 0, and the two Australian openers, Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden, were growing in confidence with every stroke. Sound familiar? It should do - this situation is a near replica of the Oval Test of 2001, and in that match, England ended up being stuffed by an innings and 25 runs.

The similarities are more than just skin-deep as well. If, as has been widely speculated, this will be Hayden and Langer's last Test as an opening pairing, then they are determined to make it as memorable as their first outing, four years ago to the match. Back in 2001, they added 158 for the first wicket - one more than their current tally - with Hayden again playing the second fiddle.

Though the fall-guy of the Australian summer had been his old opening partner, Michael Slater, who was axed to make way for Langer's return, Hayden had been in sketchy form throughout. Then as now, his innings of 68 was his first half-century of a summer in which he passed 30 on four previous occasions but was never able to go on, and then as now, his place had been spared largely because of his scoring feats in previous series - six months earlier, he had flogged 549 runs in three Tests against India.

Langer, 91 not out at the break this time, made 102 in the corresponding fixture - his first century for 18 months - before being forced to retire hurt after being sconed by Andrew Caddick. Given Langer's propensity to take eyewatering blows from Steve Harmison this summer, there remains the prospect of history repeating itself in more ways than one.

On that occasion, Australia's efforts came while batting first. Steve Waugh - torn calf muscle and all - famously limped his way to an unbeaten 157 as Australia converted their platform into a mighty 641 for 4 declared, and by the close of the second day, England were 80 for 1 in reply. Worryingly for their 2005 prospects, England mustered significantly more than their first-innings 373 as well. Thanks to Mark Ramprakash's maiden home century, they were bowled out for 432 on the fourth morning.

That left England five sessions to survive, and predictably enough they didn't, folding for 184 in 69 overs, as - guess who? - Glenn McGrath (5 for 43) and Shane Warne (4 for 64) ripped out the resistance.

There are two big differences between this match and that, however. Firstly, there was not a hint of rain to stymie Australia's onslaught. Secondly, England were 3-1 down in the series and had done their pride-salvaging in the previous game at Headingley. This time, the Ashes are at stake, and the stage is set for a rearguard that could define an era.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo