England v Australia, 3rd Test, Old Trafford, 2nd day August 12, 2005

Taking an unfamiliar route

The Australian view after the second day of the third Test at Old Trafford



Michael Clarke rises off his sickbed, but he must think he's come on the wrong tour © Getty Images

Australian cricketers love touring England and most former players rate it the highlight of their careers. Michael Clarke, who is nursing a seriously sore back, and the other debutants must wonder if they are on the right trip. The usual plan is four months' destruction like the Vikings, but now the squad could be forgiven for borrowing the Middle-Ages cry of the helpless villagers: "From the fury of the north men, O Lord deliver us."

Sixteen years of frustration is gushing from the England players and their crowds. Being an Australia fan currently feels as hard as watching their batsmen struggle. Neither group is sure how to deal with the foreign dominance. Denial is proving a popular method and acceptance relies on copping heaps of texts from English acquaintances you were certain had lost your number, and receiving angry messages from those Down Under clinging to option one. Then there is hope.

Australia have had more meetings than a failing middle management to end the malaise, but at the end of day two they were 35 runs and three wickets from following-on for the first time since Karachi in 1988-89. Athletes receiving strange test results often try the swapping drinks excuse, but in the past two matches it has looked more like switching sides.

The mis-fields, bowling injuries, spilt catches, batsmen losing their wickets in groups while falling to reflex catches and sharp turn are happening. But the offenders are wearing the wrong coloured caps. After five innings none of the top order is averaging 40. It wasn't meant to be like this. Duncan Fletcher might even be smiling.

All of Australia's batting go-to men have gone and only Shane Warne seemed desperate enough to lift himself at the crease today. Sharing eight victims with Brett Lee, Warne then batted sensibly and effectively to be 45 not out at stumps, but he will need more runs and wickets to keep the team in the game.

Chasing 444, Australia were desperate for a performance to replicate Steve Waugh's twin hundreds at Old Trafford in 1997 when he hauled Mark Taylor's team level in the series. Dubbed Mini-Tugga, Justin Langer was the first choice to match his mentor, but he fell to a stunning catch by Ian Bell.

One highlight for Langer was passing 5000 runs in partnership with his mate Matthew Hayden. The pair has been outstanding, but watching Hayden in his current form feels similar to the cold sweats he gave Queensland fans during his nervous Test initiations, when they found it most comfortable behind the couch, the next room or, like his brother, out sailing.

Australia were 1 for 73 at tea, but the break came at the wrong time and the improvement of the first two sessions was wasted. Feeling much brighter than the dirty clouds skirting Old Trafford, their situation turned gloomy as Ricky Ponting went to a lifting ball and Hayden played back to Ashley Giles, falling to the type of lbw decision that goes your way when on top, and becomes a point for complaint when fighting for ground.

The gut-turning feeling familiar to England fans but new in Australian ones had returned. It stayed while Simon Katich shouldered arms, Damien Martyn was bowled and Adam Gilchrist, who offered a brief resurgence with Warne and passed Alec Stewart's 4540 runs as the game's most prolific gloveman, left after edging Simon Jones. Clarke was ordered a second day of bed rest before his summons from the hotel at some point between 3 for 82 and 5 for 125. Limping like his team and accompanied by a runner, he winced until dismissed for 7, leaving Australia 197 for 7.

Australian fans must hope one of the room-service waiters tells Clarke about Eddie Paynter, the Lancashire batsmen who discharged himself from a Brisbane hospital during the Bodyline series to help win a Test and the series. The gutsy performance needs to be copied by all the Australians in the second innings on Paynter's home ground. Plus it's a much nicer tale than those of the Viking raids through the north of England.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo