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July 18, 2009
Dawdlers of the day
Ravi Bopara and Kevin Pietersen are without question the most explosive batsmen in England's middle-order, and their IPL contracts are a testament to the strokes they can play. Today, however, they were a pair who could barely hit the ball off the square. In the afternoon session, with England presumably keen to nail down their ascendancy, the team managed 73 runs in 27 overs, a not-insignificant proportion of which came from Pietersen's chinese cuts through fine leg. It was puzzling to behold, two cocksure batsmen toying with their rarely-seen insecurities. Bopara, as it happens, finished with the 15th-slowest innings of 27 in English Test history. And that is an indisputable fact.
Acceleration of the day
Matt Prior had his moments in the first innings of the first Test, clattering a quickfire 56 before being bowled in the dying overs of the day. This time he resumed with the same aggressive intent, and this time the situation was perfectly set up for his approach. Finding the gap supremely, he galloped to 61 from 42 balls, with nine conventional boundaries and an all-run four for good measure, as if to show just how urgent he considered the situation. He dominated a fifth-wicket stand of 86 in 12.1 overs with Paul Collingwood, who kept his end up with a share of 21, as England pushed their lead into the realms of the formidable.
Shy of the day
It took a moment of brilliance to prise Prior from the crease. A confident square-drive found Marcus North in the deep, but the batsmen instantly had two runs on their mind. A flat shy came in, and Prior knew he was struggling as the ball hit the one visible stump and flicked off the bails. The Australian fielders hurtled out to deep point to celebrate, as Prior tossed his head back in despair and thwacked his pad in frustration, long before the third umpire confirmed his demise. Nevertheless, with a lead of 470 and Andrew Flintoff emerging to replace him, England weren't exactly struggling to stay afloat.
Drop of the day
With 152 catches in 133 Tests, Ricky Ponting is seventh on the all-time list, but only the fourth most prolific Australian fielder, behind Mark Waugh (181), Mark Taylor (157) and Allan Border (156). He could have moved one closer to their tallies, however, had he held onto a regulation edge from Bopara off Peter Siddle at a critical juncture of the afternoon session. In the previous over, Ponting had missed a shy from the covers that could have run out a jittery Pietersen, and that moment was seemingly on his mind as Bopara, on 9, edged low to second slip. Ponting went for the catch with fingers pointed upwards, and the ball skidded out of the heels of his hands. At 88 for 2, with the lead approaching 300, it was a critical moment.
Trouper of the day
When Nathan Hauritz's spinner finger was bent backwards by an Andrew Strauss exocet on the first day, the instant assumption was that his participation in this match was over. But the Hauritzer is made of sterner tough than his Haley Joel Osment features would suggest, and not only did he return to the field that very same evening, he was Australia's outstanding performer in the opening exchanges of the third day. First he did the business with the bat, repelling England's seamers with a spirited 24, an innings replete with one-handed steers through the gully. Then, with ball in hand, he grabbed both England's openers in the space of seven balls, before extracting Bopara for his third three-wicket haul in as many innings this series.
Controversy of the day
Hauritz even had a hand in the latest umpiring decision to make Ponting spit. In the final over before tea, a becalmed Bopara flapped a Mitchell Johnson bouncer to mid-on, where Hauritz stumbled forward - Mike Gatting-at-Headingley style - to slide his fingers under the ball and scoop what appeared to be a crucial and timely breakthrough. But Bopara stood his ground and the umpires had no option but to send the decision upstairs. Nigel Llong used as many different views of the incident as he could muster, but as so often happens in these 2D replays of 3D events, the benefit of the doubt had to go to the batsman. Ponting, unsurprisingly, was not remotely impressed.
Decision of the day
To enforce, or not to enforce? That was the question, and it was the burning one of the morning. Australia began the day needing 70 more runs to make the follow-on academic, and by the time they had added an extra 60 for their final two wickets, Andrew Strauss's mind was made up. Batting again was, in fairness, the correct decision, in spite of the accusations of spinelessness that it entailed. The forecasted rain had failed to materialise, and with hardly a hint of lateral movement on display, England's seamers might well have struggled to make their 210-run advantage pay. The speed with which Strauss and Alastair Cook batted before lunch was further confirmation of their prudence.
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