Second Test

Australia v England 1998-99

Malcolm Knox

At Perth, November 28, 29, 30. Australia won by seven wickets. Toss: Australia. Test debut: A. J. Tudor.

A Test match completed in two days and two sessions, 33 wickets falling for 607 runs, and an individual highest score of 68 combine to suggest a farcical encounter on a ticked-up or under-prepared pitch. Yet the strip produced by WACA curator Richard Winter for the second Ashes Test produced an engrossing contest, ending in an Australian win by a flattering seven-wicket margin.

What constitutes a good cricket wicket depends on point of view: fast bowlers who have played at Perth would rate it among the best, certainly one of a kind in world cricket. Most importantly, although the WACA pitch bounced steeply and engendered tremendous pace, it carried truly, and gave every batsman a fair chance. Few of them coped, which just indicated how seldom they see such a pitch. The destroyers were not so much the downwind fliers as the upwind shapers of the ball. Until Gillespie's withering burst in England's second innings, the great majority of wickets in the match had gone to bowlers pushing against the Fremantle Doctor. Fleming, man of the match with five or 46 and four for 45, gave a masterclass on the superiority of guile and sideways movement to sheer pace on even the quickest pitches. And England's debutant, 21-year-old Alex Tudor, who replaced Fraser, grabbed five wickets by beating batsmen with lateral deviation rather than straight speed.

Fleming started his work in his second over of the match, following a series of inswingers with the one that slid across Butcher and drew the edge. By lunch on day one, England were 76 for six. Atherton and Hussain both edged McGrath to Healy, Crawley (the extra batsman replacing Croft) played a culpable waft to slip and Hick (standing in for the injured Thorpe) nicked his second ball of the tour. Only the captain, Stewart, found the centre of the bat, although his 38 (off 29 balls) had the vertiginous feel of a desperate, doomed counter-assault and eventually he dragged one on from McGrath, just after completing 1,000 Test runs in 1998. Ramprakash lasted 97 minutes before giving Taylor his 150th Test catch. With Fleming mopping up the tail (woeful except for the assured Tudor), England perished for 112, their lowest total in Perth, in three hours.

There followed perhaps the most crucial passage of the match. Taylor was able to guide Australia to a first-innings lead for the loss of only one wicket. He had survived longer than the entire England innings when he managed to nick a brute of an off-cutter from Cork. In retrospect, this second half of the first day was the easiest time for batting in the entire match, and Australia were to be grateful for their sound reply. By the second morning, the pitch had dried out and hardened, and was playing considerably faster, though with less movement, than on day one. Mark Waugh and night-watchman Gillespie, who had replaced Kasprowicz, laboured for an hour and a half over their 27-run partnership before the English pace attack triggered a collapse of seven for 75. Tudor's first two Test wickets were the Waugh brothers, Steve with an in-dipper and Mark with a late away-swinger. Gough chimed in with three, but Tudor's four for 89 propelled him from potential to reality. Unfortunately, injury and puzzling selection were to keep him out of the series until Sydney, where an unhelpful wicket restricted his opportunities.

Australia's 128-run lead looked even more formidable as England's top order failed again. Fleming removed Butcher, Hussain and Stewart in 16 balls and added an unusually aggressive Atherton by the end of his first 11-over spell. When Crawley popped one up from Miller, a historic two-day Test loomed. Enter Hick. Ridiculed after his first-innings duck, he set about the Australian bowlers with a flashing blade, twice pulling Gillespie over the mid wicket boundary. Was this finally the Test-winning innings that Hick had promised all his life? Australia's collapse had given England real hope that they could steal the match - but only if they could establish a target of around 150 or more. While Hick was at the crease, supported by Ramprakash, anything seemed possible. On the third morning, they were still in occupation. As Hick passed his half-century, the Australians looked anxious. England were 30 ahead with five wickets in hand before Gillespie had his revenge. Humiliated the previous evening, he struck five times in seven overs. First to go was Hick, caught at third slip for 68 - off 73 balls, with eight fours and two sixes. Cork attempted to continue the rally with Ramprakash, but Gillespie picked up the final four wickets for one run in six balls, the last three going for ducks.

The target was only 64, but three wickets were enough to show England what might have been. The Waughs dispersed thoughts of a miracle, taking the home side to a deceptively comfortable victory. On this wicket, against good pace bowling, all batsmen proved vulnerable. England were left to regret their inability to set Australia a testing fourth-innings target.

Australia's controversial omission of MacGill had been justified by events. His replacement, Miller, bowled a handful of overs of off-spin in the match, while Ramprakash bowled only two for England. Taylor maintained that MacGill would have been twelfth man had he been in the squad. So the bowler who was to lead the series wicket-takers spent this Test playing for New South Wales in a Sheffield Shield match a continent away.

Man of the Match: D. W. Fleming.

Attendance: 47,053.

Close of play: First day, Australia 150-3 (M. E. Waugh 19*, Gillespie 5*); Second day, England 126-5 (Ramprakash 26*, Hick 42*).

© John Wisden & Co