England v Australia, 2nd npower Test, Lord's, 4th day July 19, 2009

Surely, not again?


An old England favourite made an unexpected reappearance today. The team huddle, such a notable feature of Michael Vaughan's unparalleled era of captaincy, had been put into mothballs by Kevin Pietersen last summer, as part of an attempt to freshen up the team's onfield mindset. Eleven months on, Andrew Strauss brought it back into use in an impromptu time-out, but the message his urgent exhortations gave off weren't exactly reassuring to those out of earshot.

The situation for England was beginning to feel critical. The new ball was due and the light was beginning to fade, but Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin had batted with such ease and obduracy in a 159-run stand that a target of 522 was looking as puny as England's performance at Cardiff last week, where the same two batsmen both made substantial scores to carry Australia to a vast total of 674 for 6 declared.

Suddenly a wave of anxiety began to sweep through another packed house at Lord's. Surely there could not be a twist in the tale of a performance in which England had dominated since day one. "I wasn't on the field at that time," said Graeme Swann, who had been cleaning some mud off his spinning finger - apparently. "I can understand how some people may view it as a negative thing, but I can only assume it was a bit of a rallying cry - we've got the new ball and let's make it count."

Whatever it was, it did not have the desired effect. By the close, six new-ball overs had conceded 26 runs for no breakthroughs, and the final-day equation was starting to take on eerily familiar proportions. Hard as one tries to avoid harking back to 2005, the intensity of this series, and the inexorable progress that Australia have made through adversity, brings to mind those seismic events on the fourth and final day at Edgbaston four years ago.

Not for everyone, mind you, because while English cricketers and supporters can't help but veer towards pessimism at each and every nail-shredding moment, Australia's only motivation is the creation of another notch of history. "'05 is well and truly gone," said their coach, Tim Nielsen. "It's the history of the Australian cricket team that helps us. We have only spoken about winning the game and once you get into the position you're in now, or even when you're 520, the players make the decisions down on the ground about the best way to go about it.

"Ricky [Ponting] mentioned it at the start," said Nielsen. "There's nowhere he'd rather be than here, with people not believing we could win, with us having this opportunity. Once again we've shown that when our backs are against the wall, good players will stand up and we feel we are good players under pressure."

Australia's indomitable spirit has refused to be crushed in the absence of so many of the men who made them great over the past decade. "It's the great thing about playing Test cricket," said Nielsen. "The guys are excited about playing against the best, and at the moment it's a great contest. There's a feeling of opportunity, and sometimes you can come to a Test match and you don't need a scoreboard like we have tonight to be excited."

England's excitement, however, manifests itself rather differently, as Swann candidly admitted. "We're English, we get nervous about anything," he said. "Your football team could be 4-0 up at half-time and you daren't watch the second half. But I wouldn't say it's panic. I don't think you panic until it gets like that Edgbaston Test a few years ago, when you're counting the balls down, they need ten to win, and you're bowling full tosses. There wasn't panic out there, but there was obviously frustration, because it was a very good partnership."

With 209 runs still required, five wickets still in hand, and the weather set fair for an entire day's batting, the chances are that this match will head closer to the wire than anyone could have anticipated when Australia set off in pursuit of a total that is 104 runs higher than any successful chase in history. For the moment, however, Swann is determined to savour the contest, rather than get bogged down in the anxieties that come with such finely balanced positions.

"It's going to be a great day's cricket," he said, just as the final day at Cardiff proved to be last week. England feared the worst on that occasion as well, but ended up getting the best they could hope for.

"It wouldn't be the Ashes if it wasn't like that," he said. "But I'm just glad that these first two Test matches are living up to the 2005 billing. The worst thing for me would be to play in my first Ashes, and for it to be a pile of ****."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Manoj on July 20, 2009, 11:48 GMT

    So...there you go, just as i said, it's all done and dusted before lunch !!!

  • J on July 20, 2009, 11:40 GMT

    [quote=" gregbb"] 200 to get against a team with 13 on the field - tough ask [/quote] Why can't you keep such idiotic statements about the umpires to yourself? Every team has benefited from umpiring errors and the Aussies have hardly been the most disadvantaged. In fact some will argue that they have been the among the top beneficiaries.

    The Aussies bowling in the early parts of the first innings, notably Johnson, was wretched and they were severely punished for the wayardness. On the contrary, England were on fire with the ball in the first innings whilst the Aussie batsmen were simply not up for it.

    Fair play to Clarke and Haddin in the second innings for finally displaying some typical Aussie class, resilience and belligerence. This partnership has been breathtakingly brilliant. Lets have more of this scintillating batting and Freddy's aggressive bowling please :).

  • Paul on July 20, 2009, 9:43 GMT

    Ah the anto English telling us what we should or shouldn't care about. Perhaps you would like to advise me on my choice of literature and music as well. No ? Ok, well then stop telling me what I should or shouldn't remember about cricket, and your opinion about what should or shouldn't be important to me.

    Is there not a forum or comments section where you can go and talk about something you ARE interested in? Because the phrase"dog in a manger" comes to mind when you spend your time spoiling something you profess to have no interest in.

    England case most about the Ashes, they care most about the Ashes when they are in England. That's the way it is. If you don't like that..TOUGH

  • Ajay on July 20, 2009, 8:40 GMT

    This is cricket. 4th day belonged to Australia. First 2 hours of 5th day will be do or die for England, if they break this paternship and take one or two wickets, then they will have advantage. I personally do not like Ricky Ponting to have honours for leading side scoring most runs in 4th Innings as he does not deserve this due to unsportsmanship attitude in this gentleman's game

  • Andy on July 20, 2009, 8:39 GMT

    As an England fan, I have a very nasty and pessimistic feeling about today's play. Wish I'd have placed a bet on Australia yesterday!

  • shafaet on July 20, 2009, 8:26 GMT

    None should under-estimate Michelle johnson's batting,he got a century two tests before against Steyn,Ntini. sO..

  • Greg on July 20, 2009, 8:17 GMT

    200 to get against a team with 13 on the field - tough ask

  • Srinivasan on July 20, 2009, 7:45 GMT

    Swann was turning the ball sufficiently and should have bowled round the wicket to Clarke and Haddin and had a short fine leg, silly point and silly short leg besides a slip. This would have prevented Clarke from stepping out to play him and would have forced him to play off the back foot and may have played into the hands of the close in fielders. Also the pace bowlers should have tempted them to hook and perhaps get caught at square leg esp Haddin who is strong on the legside.

  • dinker on July 20, 2009, 7:29 GMT

    To Freedie_Flintoff_Dhaka

    One more wkt and England wont be bowling to typical tail enders..Mitchell is pretty good with the bat..He is better than Brett Lee and a bit away from being a genuine bowling all rounder(somewhat similar to Shaun Pollock).....If Pup and Haddin survive early overs and put some runs on the board,Johnson's batting may well make news...just have a feeling that Mitchell Johnson could be one of the Ashes heroes by the end of fifth day's play in the most unexpected way..The only trouble is his mindset at present..hes being flaked all around for not being the Aussie bowling spearhead..Will it affect his fighting spirit?...BUT watever be the result..WAT A TEST MATCH...being a test ckt fan i couldnt have asked for more....Let the better side win.....

  • usman on July 20, 2009, 7:07 GMT

    It's a battle of nerves naturally. The negativity seeping into the mindset of Strauss was evident in the last half an hour as he posted a cover sweeper when the need was to take a wicket. This is reminiscent of when Ganguly went on the defensive even after his team had posted 700 in Sydney Test! Australians come out fighting when the crunch comes and the way to combat them is to stay on the offensive too. Then again Rudi might sway this England's way through another of his patented screw-ups.

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