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England stumbled from one crisis to another as the post-mortem raged over Gooch's failure to wrest the Ashes from Australia. They began the Fifth Test hopefully, as Atherton became his country's 71st captain and the sixth from Lancashire. But England were vanquished by another huge margin. Their downfall was overshadowed by Ted Dexter's resignation as chairman of the selectors, six months before his five-year term officially ended; the announcement was greeted with applause around the ground.
Lathwell and Caddick were both dropped, while McCague's back ruled him out. So Malcolm and Watkin were summoned, along with Maynard, for his first Test since his debut against West Indies in 1988 and subsequent ban for touring South Africa. Then, 48 hours before the match and 17 days before his 41st birthday. Emburey was recalled, as an afterthought, when team manager Keith Fletcher realised the truth of warnings about a bare pitch likely to suit the spinners. Just to add spice Russell, a casualty of the selectors' batsman/wicket-keeper policy, dashed up as stand-by for Stewart, who was nursing very tender bruised ribs. But with Stewart pronounced fit he was sent away again, as were Watkin and Malcolm. Australia were unchanged.
Atherton's initial strategy must have been to win the toss, bat first and score at least 450. The first two he pulled off, the last was wishful thinking. Atherton himself played with a calming assurance that suggested he would enjoy the mantle of captaincy. His 72, occupying 192 minutes, was England's biggest contribution in either innings and set the kind of example which had been Gooch's trademark, until he was scuttled by a shooter from Reiffel, leaving England 156 for five. Their unexpected rescuer was Emburey, perhaps Test cricket's most effective No. 8. He frayed Australian tempers for 160 minutes as he chiselled out 116 priceless runs with Thorpe, Bicknell, Such and Ilott. His unbeaten 55 demonstrated a burning desire to survive and a variety of improvised strokes hinting at a DIY batting kit rather than the MCC coaching manual.
However, when Ilott became Reiffel's sixth wicket on the second morning Atherton may have been regretting the decision to go for Emburey's bowling. England were left with the new-ball pairing of Bicknell and Ilott (joint Test record: eight for 468) and two off-spinners, one of whom thought his Test days were over. By the end of the day Australia were 258 for five, 18 runs behind. England were virtually out of the contest and heartily fed up with the Waugh twins. It could have been very different had Stewart stumped Steve Waugh off his second ball, from Such, when Australia were 80 for four. Reprieved, Steve united with his brother as never before in 13 Tests, adding 153 for the fifth wicket. It said much for the calibre of Mark Waugh's strokeplay that he batted with such fluency and dominance after Australia's most jittery start to date. He picked the ball off his toes and exhibited the strength in his wrists with a stream of whippy leg-side shots. His 137, including 18 fours, was Australia's tenth Test century of the summer, equalling the Ashes record and eclipsing the eight shared by Bradman's Invincibles in 1948.
Atherton shuffled his bowlers well, no easy task with such limited resources, and placed his field shrewdly. Nor was he shy of consulting Gooch and Stewart, his chief rival for the captaincy. Gooch responded with a warm hug when Mark Waugh was finally dismissed on Friday evening, lured into a trap at backward square leg which he and his successor had planned minutely. But on Saturday an exasperated England lost their grip in the face of rampant lower-order batting, led by Healy, and began to match earlier Australian dissent. When umpire Shephard ignored raucous appeals for a bat-pad catch against Hughes, Thorpe was so peeved he chucked the ball to the ground in a sulk, while Stewart had already raced down the pitch to congratulate Such. Thorpe was officially rebuked by Fletcher and referee Clive Lloyd noted Stewart's reactions. Atherton, without condoning these antics, felt that they stemmed from the team's new-found enthusiasm.
England entered the fourth day at 89 for one, trailing by 43. Gooch was still there but his early departure, bowled round his legs by Warne, must have sent more jitters through the dressing-room. Baffled by May's flight and sharp turn, Maynard looked as though he was batting in quicksand, and lasted just 24 balls in two innings. There was a glimmer of hope that the Australians might face a tricky run-chase, with the tenacious Thorpe and Emburey holding the fort on 216 for six at tea. Thorpe resisted the spinners without apparent stress for nearly four hours. But once Emburey - whose six hours of batting in the match represented far better value than his three wickets - was prised out the Australians sensed another runaway win. At 5.27 p.m. the innings ended in bizarre fashion, with Ilott bowled off his backside. England had been spun dry by May and Warne, who split the wickets evenly between them.
Australia did suffer a couple of hiccups on Monday morning, losing both openers on 12. But Mark Waugh played with such freedom and panache against Such and Emburey that they seemed to be bowling on a different pitch to the Australians and Waugh and Boon extended their run of century partnerships to five in five Tests. By two o'clock Australia were 4-0 up, after their 12th success in 18 Tests against England, and looking to make it 5-0 for the second time in Ashes history. Atherton had endured the same losing fate as his seven predecessors, Gower, Gatting, Emburey, Cowdrey, Gooch, Lamb and Stewart; Willis was the last England captain to win his first Test. The press conference was, by then, distracted by Dexter's resignation, announced during the final morning. The young captain adopted a diplomatic air before a battery of cameras, microphones, arc lights and tape recorders, when grilled as to whether he thought it perverse that Dexter had not informed him beforehand. He preferred to look to the future, promising to identify young players, with two things, talent and temperament, and then show faith in them.
Man of the Match: M. E. Waugh. Attendance: 63,000; receipts £1,040,000.
Close of Play: First day, England 276-9 (J. E. Emburey 55*, M. C. Ilott 3*); Second day, Australia 258-5 (S. R. Waugh 57*, I. A. Healy 12*); Third day, England 89-1 (G. A. Gooch 44*, R. A. Smith 7*); Fourth day, Australia 9-0 (M. J. Slater 7*, M. A. Taylor 2*).