Fifth Cornhill Test

ENGLAND v AUSTRALIA

Peter Johnson

Toss: Australia. Test debuts: England - A. J. Hollioake, B. C. Hollioake.

Crushing defeat cost England the series and the Ashes but not, this time, their captain. Mike Atherton withstood all the demands that he follow the example of his predecessor, Graham Gooch, who had fallen on his sword in similar circumstances four years earlier. But the public debate about his future did nothing to ease the pressure on Atherton. By the start of the third day, when all hope of the essential victory had gone, the ECB issued an official communiqué denying a newspaper report that he had offered to resign on the eve of the match. Appointed for the series, Atherton insisted he would see it through, a phrase grim enough to capture the mood of a man and a team faced by overwhelming odds.

There were times when England's out-cricket was impeccable - disciplined, athletic and enthusiastic. Yet it seemed only to incite the Australians to lift their game, to emphasise that the series had, since the upset at Edgbaston, been an unequal contest between honest endeavour and pure talent.

Accepting that, the England selectors revoked their vow after the Old Trafford defeat to stand by their men, left out those useful tradesmen Butcher, Ealham and Smith, and went instead for action heroes. Pace bowlers Malcolm and Caddick were restored and the brothers Adam and Ben Hollioake, left to bask in the public's adulation since their Texaco Trophy heroics, were asked to give the side some of their Australian-bred self-confidence. Adam, seen by many as a serious candidate for the captaincy, needed to prove his ability as a Test batsman. Ben, at 19 years 269 days, was the youngest England Test debutant since Brian Close, aged 18 years 149 days, played against New Zealand in 1949. The Hollioakes were only the fifth set of brothers to play a Test for England, and the first since Worcestershire's Peter and Dick Richardson in 1957. Tufnell, meanwhile, was chosen and sent away yet again.

The Hollioakes' inclusion was a gamble, but not the only one forced upon England. Conscious that Stewart's role as wicket-keeper/batsman was crucial, yet aware that he was desperately out of touch, the selectors tried some daring alternative medicine. Instead of keeping him back at No. 3, they asked him to open again. It was a temporary and seemingly unfair expedient - but it inspired his finest innings of the series. By the time Stewart made those spectacular runs, though, two unpredictable factors had given Australia - who retained their triumphant team from Headingley - a command they never relaxed. First, Gough, England's most successful bowler, failed a fitness test on an inflamed knee. Then, Atherton lost the toss for the fifth successive time.

Given first use of the only flawless pitch of the series, Australia used it entertainingly but mercilessly. Headley, Caddick and Malcolm bowled with speed, devotion and some accuracy under a relentless sun. England's ground fielding was superb. Yet, on that decisive opening day, the first four Australian batsmen made half-centuries, each different in style but all tinged with an air of inevitability, as they advanced to 302 for three. Headley eventually broke the opening stand of 117 when he had Elliott, who had completed 1,000 first-class runs on the tour, taken behind off a dubious inside edge. Taylor was bowled by Caddick after becoming the sixth Australian to pass 6,000 Test runs, and Ben Hollioake claimed his first Test wicket, Blewett, with his 38th delivery. Hollioake minor was carefully nursed by Atherton and allowed to bowl only eight overs of bland medium-pace. But it was a painful learning experience, as he went for five an over. He and Adam shared another moment of history by bowling in tandem - brothers against brothers - at the Waugh twins. Mark and Steve. The Waughs took their stand to 86 and Steve added the fifth fifty of the innings next morning, but Australia lost their last seven for 116 as the England bowlers were finally rewarded for their hard labour.

Australia's 427 left them virtually fireproof. Yet they were singed by Stewart's 87. He made the runs with his old, instinctive timing off only 107 balls, hitting 14 fours. He and Atherton had reached 106 in 27 overs and were promising England an honourable retreat when Warne turned in another of his hugely influential spells, removing both of them, plus Hussain, in 40 deliveries. England rallied again on the third day to reach 313, a deficit of 114. Thorpe reached his first Test fifty since Edgbaston, supported by Adam Hollioake in a stand of 102, and Ben hit a few fearless shots in his 28. But, by the close, Australia had stretched their lead to 281. And on the fourth day, England totally lost the plot.

Some wildly off-line bowling gave Healy the chance to show he is still the game's supreme and toughest wicket-keeper/batsman. Together with Ponting, he thrashed 105 in 104 minutes, and hit nine fours in his 63 in 78 balls, as Australia went through one of their familiar spirit-crushing routines.

Left to get 451 or to survive for more than eight hours, England lasted just 48.5 overs. From the moment Atherton glanced a jaw-threatening bouncer from McGrath into Healy's gloves, it was an innings with no visible plan, a strange mix of strokeless submission and devil-may-care defiance. Only Thorpe, with an unbeaten 82, looked sure of what he was doing and why. But even he could not stop the rampant Australian attack and their hawk-like fielders from picking off the stragglers. His last six companions contributed 14 as he scored 68.

Australia claimed the extra half-hour at 173 for eight and one of the more lifeless and misguided England innings of a dark decade passed quietly into history with seven balls to spare. Warne led Australia's cavortings in front of the pavilion as they claimed the Ashes for the fifth time in a row. Atherton resolutely declined journalists' invitations to resign at once, though his wording suggested to many that he would answer differently when the series was over.

Man of the Match: I. A. Healy. Attendance: 48,581; receipts £1,110,135.

Close of play: First day, Australia 302-3(M. E. Waugh 60*, S. R. Waugh 38*); Second day, England 188-4 (G. P. Thorpe 30*, A. J. Hollioake 15*); Third day, Australia 167-4 (S. R. Waugh 10*, R. T. Ponting 5*).

© John Wisden & Co
 
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