England v Australia, 1st npower Test, Cardiff, 5th day July 12, 2009

England escape; the Ashes are ablaze

The 2009 Ashes are officially alive. But though England will draw encouragement from their great escape, much more is needed from their marquee batsmen

Since the arrival of the Australian team to England, one question has resonated throughout the land: can the 2009 Ashes series match the drama and intrigue of four years ago? Five days into cricket's oldest and most fabled contest, it seems we have our answer. Yes. Emphatically, yes.

In the long shadows of a Cardiff evening, James Anderson and Monty Panesar carried the baton passed forth by Paul Collingwood and Graeme Swann to save the first Test against a backdrop of theatre and patriotism the 20-over game will never match. Their steely determination on a day of high emotion - replete with a verbal altercation in the warm-ups, a physical confrontation in the middle and a pitch invasion, just for good measure - ensured the match lived up to the near-impossible standards of 2005, and set the stage for another enthralling Ashes summer.

That the Test was played at a time when West Indies players are striking over pay, a nomadic Pakistan team is scouting for a neutral base and Twenty20 cricket continues to erode the game's traditions only underscores its importance on a macro level. That it stirred the passions of fans on both sides of the Antipodes is also significant, albeit on a more intimate scale, given the difficult paths taken by the respective teams and supporters in recent seasons.

The image of Anderson turning to the pavilion, all smiles and fist pumps, will live long in the memory of those who witnessed it. It was, by any standard, a great escape and will go far towards restoring cricket to the forefront of the English sporting conscience, at least for the next few months.

England, undoubtedly, will draw encouragement from their stirring final day riposte, but major question marks remain over a team that was outplayed in 11 of 14 completed sessions. Paul Collingwood's stoic innings on Sunday - more notable for the 245 balls and 344 minutes absorbed than the 74 runs scored - very nearly compensated for the general lack of application of those higher up the order, but England will need many more contributors if they are to keep a voracious Australian attack at bay over the next four Tests.

Despite all the pre-match talk of accountability and responsibility, precious few of England's big-name batsmen displayed much of either. The first innings represented an en-masse fluffing of lines given the sheer volume of unconverted starts, while the second saw too many top-order specialists falling to ill-advised shots to straight deliveries.

Kevin Pietersen's modes of dismissal in both innings - and the flippancy of his first day explanation - will surely have grated with Andys Strauss and Flower, and a Sir Alex Ferguson-style "hairdryer" might not be amiss prior to Lord's. Clearly, more is needed from England's marquee batsman. The this-is-how-I-play defence has worn thin.

Pietersen, though, was not the only high-profile English batsmen guilty of questionable shot selection in Cardiff, and all would do well to take a leaf from the book of Anderson and Panesar. The courage and determination required to negotiate the snarling Peter Siddle, the challenging Ben Hilfenhaus and the probing Nathan Hauritz over 69 deliveries and 49 minutes on Sunday will be celebrated for years to come; particularly if their rearguard action marks the beginning of a broader English Ashes revival.

Yet despite the festive, febrile atmosphere of Sophia Gardens on Sunday night, England will be acutely aware that they have dodged a bullet in this Test. Much like Australia's rain-assisted escape at Old Trafford four years ago, the hosts benefited from a washed out final session on Saturday, reducing Australia's opportunity to capitalise on their hefty 239-run first innings advantage. What England have managed, however, is a blank canvas heading into Lord's. And that, following their false start in Cardiff, is invaluable.

That the Test was played at a time when West Indies players are striking over pay, a nomadic Pakistan team is scouting for a neutral base and Twenty20 cricket continues to erode the game's traditions only underscores its importance on a macro level

Though bitterly disappointed they could not prise loose England's final wicket on Sunday, Australia has reasonable cause for positivity. Fortune seemed stacked against the tourists from the start of this match, beginning with Brett Lee's match-ending injury and the memories of Edgbaston, 2005 it evoked. Denied the services of their only 300-wicket taker, Australia entered the match with a four-man attack whose combined Test experience amounted to just 35 matches, 21 of which belonged to Mitchell Johnson.

Those baggy greenhorns were immediately put to work after Ponting lost an important toss on a docile pitch. With Johnson failing to reach the talismanic heights of South Africa, it was left to the rookie combination of Hilfenhaus and Siddle to hammer away on a thankless surface. Both impressed with their unrelenting vigour, if not always their direction, and were ably supported by Hauritz, Australia's most maligned Ashes spinner in a generation.

That foursome has almost certainly secured safe passage into the starting XI for Lord's, meaning that the tourists will enter the second Test with 400-wickets worth of experience in Lee and Stuart Clark on the bench. But not all is rosy in the tourist's camp. An inability to take more than seven wickets on a fifth day pitch will reprise memories of recent disappointments in India and Australia, and reinforce - as if it was needed - the realities of life in the post-Warne era.

Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • AARON HUSSEIN on July 14, 2009, 13:12 GMT

    Watching the 12th man run on with gloves, followed by a physio who wasn't needed because no 1 was injured, looked terrible. England should hang their heads in shame. The Captain & coach should apologise, & hope don't repeat this again in the future. As a prevention, ICC should to change some rules & regulations, including ethics of the game to comply 21st century's dynamic life style. Then, there will be no more farcial finish, and bore and shame to watch a fair cricket. 1) panalty for behavior to an individual player, a group of players and the team as whole; 2) like limitation of days, impose limitation of overs per innings (or per total innings of the team), per day and per hour; 3) to comply metric system in cricket also, reduce an over to 5 balls; 4) make T20 cricket, which is the future and global cricket, more dynamic - impose some new regulations like, except wicket-keeper all other 10 players should to bowl within 1st 15 overs atleast 1 over, but 1 bowler maximum 4 overs, etc.

  • Keith on July 14, 2009, 3:02 GMT

    In the light of the fact he has made a habit of taking forever to get through his team's overs, it's a bit of a cheek for Ricky Ponting to blame someone else for wasting time.

  • A on July 13, 2009, 19:38 GMT

    LOL. Great game, and for once, its not Pakistani and Indian fans having a go at each other :D

  • Anthony on July 13, 2009, 17:04 GMT

    Popcorn - whits106 is right mate. Hang your head in shame. Actually so should Sky. In last night coverage of the press conference on their sports news channel they included the line by Ponting "but that had nothing to do us not winning the game." But they cut this bit out of their coverage today. I guess it did make for good copy.

    Lots of overreactions to things on here which is good to see as it means interest in the cricket is high. As for Ponting's decision making at the end, well of the 7 wickets to fall on Sunday, I'm man enough to say I was shouting he had the wrong bowler on when 3 of them fell, so who am I to judge if one of his decisions didn't pay off.

  • Satish on July 13, 2009, 14:47 GMT

    Don't get too carried away with this result. The only positive for England is that McGrath is wrong - it won't be 5-0!! Australia are still miles ahead of England and one rain-affected draw means nothing. On this performance alone, Australia should win this series comfortably.

  • J on July 13, 2009, 14:36 GMT

    I don't think the Picky T Ponting should be talking about the "spirit of the game"

  • shafaet on July 13, 2009, 14:25 GMT

    Ponting didnt make a mistake by not declaring before taking a huge lead. How could he know about the rain the washed away a good 15-20 overs on 4th day? but Ponting was really silly in the last session of 5th days play. He should've given the ball to siddle or johnson for 2-3 more overs and should've used Clarke or even Katich. But who are you to advice AUS captain who literally ruled all forms of the cricket??

  • Ben on July 13, 2009, 12:36 GMT

    LOL I Know I just wrote a comment, but I seriously felt a huge need to reading popcorn's comment.


    England played that entire match in the spirit of the game and Australia had PLENTY of opportunities to wrap it up before then. They snatched a draw from the jaws of victory themselves that game. Australia and any other teams would have done the exact same thing. Nathan Hauritz has already stated as much. Stop being so one-eyed. I'm a proud Australian and was disappointed with the result, but admire England for their fight they displayed and full credit to them for getting the draw.

    By the way, what repeat of 2005? The only team I remember playing for draw like this was Australia @ Old Trafford I think it was (correct me if i'm wrong).

    You should hang your head in shame for such a childish view!

  • Ben on July 13, 2009, 11:02 GMT

    That was just exhilirating to watch. I loved every minute of it. If anyone thinks it was "pointless" playing that 5th day just for a draw, needs to see how into that crowd was. Every ball Panesar & Anderson kept out saw them screaming louder and louder. Although disappointed we didn't get up, full marks to England for holding on and credit has to go Paul Collingwood for once again showing why (in my opinion) he is one of the best in world cricket. He might not be classy and score quickly, but there is alot more to this great game of ours and he showed it yesterday! Good on him.

    Flash99 - I really don't think it's Ponting's fault they've failed to bowl England out (and you're already saying we've lost the ashes? Bit over-dramatic don't you think?). The BOWLERS must take some responsibilty there. There wasn't much else he could do. Johnson was terrible on the last day. Siddle was average at best and Hilfenhaus had a fine game. I really think England's determination was just too much.

  • Vivek on July 13, 2009, 10:45 GMT

    Australia and England put up the best show every time they team up against each other. The Ashes is one of the most oldest sporting events in the world and one cannot undermine the tensions and thrills it gives to the audiences. Being an Indian, I have always supported the Australians even when they have played against India. Coming so close to an Ashes victory with seven Ashes debutants is no mean job. Ricky Ponting has just done a great job by keeping faith in the new talent he has got with him and nurturing them well enough to make them competent on the big stage. They cannot be compared to the likes of Warne, McGrath, Martyn, Gilchrist, Hayden and Langer but I definitely feel that they will surely make Australia reach the pinnacle of cricket again. They have the potential to forge an Ashes winning side in England and they will surely prove that they are no less than the best.

  • No featured comments at the moment.