England make hay in warm-up
England XI 290 for 8 dec and 185 for 2 (Bopara 88*, Collingwood 21*) lead Warwickshire 102 (Anderson 5-34) by 373 runs
A feeling of boys against men spread through a sparse but sun-baked crowd on the second day at Edgbaston, as England's openers, Andrew Strauss and Ravi Bopara, managed more in their first-wicket stand of 109 that the entire Warwickshire XI were permitted to accumulate in 35.4 outclassed overs, as James Anderson, Andrew Flintoff and Monty Panesar claimed their remaining nine wickets in little more than a session. As a pointer towards Cardiff it felt every bit as misleading as England's meandering first-innings performance had been, especially given the high-octane happenings down the road at Worcester. But as far as middle practices go, it was pretty much perfect.
Perfect, that is, except perhaps for Kevin Pietersen's distracted dismissal in the evening session, although the manner of his departure rather summed up the competitive edge of this contest. Pietersen managed 6 from 11 balls, before producing a bored guide to second slip off Boyd Rankin to complete his second failure of the match. Foregone conclusions and 48-yard boundaries aren't the best combination to whet his competitive juices. So instead, with Strauss already gone for a healthy 61, it was left to Bopara to complete the half-century that he missed in the first innings, and for Paul Collingwood to put bat to ball on the ground where he saved his Test career with a gutsy century against South Africa 11 months ago.
By the close, the pair had added 60 for the third wicket, and England were pretty much ready to get on with the main event. "The hype has been going on for so long now and we just want to get started," said Anderson, who was the day's most notable success with figures of 5 for 34 in 13 overs. In less than a week's time, barring the sort of whimsy that led to Graeme Swann's new-ball spell at Lord's in May, Anderson will next week be given the honour of bowling England's first over in the 2009 Ashes. On this evidence, he is likelier to set the sort of standard that Steve Harmison produced in 2005, rather than replicate the sort of ghastly freeze he came up with 18 months later in Brisbane.
"Everything's under control," was how Anderson summed up his performance, which was an accurate assessment not only of the state of his nerves, but of the precision of his bowling. After five slightly creaky overs on Wednesday evening - which, as it happens, was one more than any international cricketer was required to send down last month - he found his range and his radar instantly this morning. Jonathan Trott was beaten by a beauty that left him off the pitch and found a thin snick through to the keeper, and after a welcome brace for the aggressive Andrew Flintoff, Anderson returned to rip through the middle order with a buzzing full length and just enough movement through the air and off the pitch.
"It is going really well," said Anderson. "I feel in control of the ball, and I am concentrating on my job, which is to swing the ball and take early wickets to make as many inroads as possible in their top six or seven. I think we bowled quite well. It was not as if they played horrendous shots. They played quite patiently and a few of them looked good at the start of their innings, but got a good ball."
There were a few of those on display today, not least from Flintoff, who once again confirmed that, these days, he is a fast bowler first and foremost, and an allrounder as an afterthought. He opened the morning's action from the City End, and after a third-ball appeal for lbw, he could have struck with his sixth delivery, when Trott edged low for Swann to shell the chance in the gully. He wasn't denied for long, however, and after a change of ends he produced a full and fast delivery to trap Tony Frost lbw for 14, before coming round the wicket to have Jim Troughton caught behind off a fierce lifter that kicked through at head-height to Matt Prior behind the stumps.
Flintoff's eagerness to impress was so acute that, when Tim Ambrose pushed his first delivery gently into space in front of square on the leg-side, he sprinted off to collect it off his own bowling, outstripping the man under the lid, Alastair Cook, as he did so, and sliding gallantly to haul it back just inside the rope. Ambrose did eventually get a boundary to his name, but that was the sum of his scoring strokes, as Anderson followed up with the ball of the day, a pearling leg-cutter on a perfect length to peg back his off stump for 7.
Ateeq Javid was then turned inside-out by Anderson to be caught off a leading edge in the gully, and when Rikki Clarke found Flintoff's bucket hands at second slip to complete Anderson's five-for, Warwickshire were faltering at 75 for 7, and the most nervous man in the ground was not Keith Barker, the next man in, nor even Ashley Giles, England selector and Warwickshire's Director of Cricket, whose team was heading for something of a humiliation. It was Monty Panesar, England's forgotten spinner, who was rapidly running out of opportunities to push his case for a recall to the squad.
Panesar's mood cannot have improved when Strauss decided that Swann should be the first of the spinners to sample the conditions, and his mind was clearly elsewhere when Chris Woakes turned Swann's first delivery towards him at fine leg, and only a bellow from Pietersen at mid-on alerted him to the fact that there was some fielding to be done. But happily for Panesar, he soon got his opportunity, and for 7.4 cathartic overs, he slotted unfussily back into his old routine.
Panesar needed just eight deliveries to make his first breakthrough, as Barker played all round a sharp tweaker and had his stumps demolished for a duck. Woakes followed soon afterwards for 13, as Strauss held on in the gully, and shortly after lunch, he wrapped up a pleasing mini-spell of 7.4-4-10-3, as Rankin prodded limply into Bopara's midriff at short leg. In a single spell, Panesar had increased by 50% his first-class tally for the season, and as he left the field to backslaps galore, maybe, just maybe, he felt that surge of confidence his game has sorely lacked. If so, then England's Ashes preparations really are complete.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo