Second Test

Australia v England 2006-07

Matthew Engel

At Adelaide, December 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 2006. Australia won by six wickets. Toss: England.

Great Man theory, originally associated with the philosopher Thomas Carlyle, holds that the whole of human history has been determined by a handful of people. In cricketing terms, it has always been hard to dispute, especially when you're sitting at Don Bradman's home ground.

For four days and 43 minutes of this Test match, there was plenty of time to think about such matters, and also whether it might be more amusing to spend the final afternoon hiring a pedalo on the River Torrens instead of watching this turgid contest dribble away to its inevitable draw. Then came the Great Man.

Shane Warne conjured up perhaps the most astounding victory of even his career. Here was a pitch that, all along, had offered the possibility to a batsman with sufficient stamina and perseverance of staying at the crease until the 2010-11 Ashes. Suddenly the placid earth began to crack and crumble and boil and bubble, as if the San Andreas Fault had opened directly underneath. But the fault was all England's. In the first innings, they had convinced themselves the Wizard of Oz was no great magician but just a cunning illusionist. Now they thought he could make the earth move. And so he did.

He was given a shove by the first bad umpiring decision of the match: Steve Bucknor gifted Warne the wicket of Strauss, caught off his pad. From that moment, every demon that has haunted English cricket started to play inside the batsmen's heads. And the greatest of those demons was bowling at them.

From 69 for one, England withered to 129 all out. Australia's task - 168 in 36 overs - was no certainty. But the force was with them, and they won with 19 balls to spare. You could replay the final day a hundred times, and the game might be drawn every time. But it won't be replayed. Such a day could never happen quite like this again. To understand the drama of the turnaround, it is necessary to loll awhile amid the languor that came before. There was a shock at the start: both teams were unchanged, which meant England were defying public and pundits alike by again omitting Panesar and keeping both Anderson and Giles. There was a second shock too, in the sense that English fatalists presumed such an important toss was bound to be won by Australia. In fact, Flintoff correctly called heads, and he did not attempt a third shock by fielding.

There have been better batting pitches - some England players said it was the slowest they had seen all year - but few more disheartening for bowlers. Warne did get some first-day turn, which was remarkable. But it was soon clear this was unlikely to be one of McGrath's Tests and, when the second new ball came, it was handed to the wholehearted Clark. The only good news for Australia was that the Adelaide weather was unusually cool and breezy.

It took a while for England to establish any kind of command. Though Bell and Collingwood dug in, Bell wrecked his good work by mishooking on 60. That brought in Pietersen, but even he could not assert himself. Collingwood reached his hundred off the eighth ball of the second day; Pietersen followed him before lunch. And though the stand easily surpassed the 153 they had put on in adversity at Brisbane, England still had trouble upping the rate. This was due partly to the pitch, partly to the batsmen's caution, and partly to Warne opting for negative round-the-wicket bowling, which Pietersen could only kick away. He later claimed this showed he had Warne beaten.

Relentlessly, though, both men kept climbing. Collingwood's determination had never been in doubt; but he also soared above his presumed limitations as a primarily legside player, cutting and cover-driving, and then dancing down the track to straightdrive Warne to reach 150. Shortly before tea, he became the first England player to score a Test double-century in Australia since Wally Hammond 70 years earlier. Not Hutton, not May, not Boycott, not Gooch, not Atherton... Collingwood. Moments later, he wearily fell for 206, after 515 minutes, 392 balls and 16 fours. The stand was worth 310, England's fourth-wicket record against Australia. Pietersen, however, failed to reach the strange landmark he craved: 159. He was out for 158 for the third time in his 20 Tests. Since he was run out, going for a twitchy single trying to get off his own personal version of 99 or Nelson, we may assume this was no coincidence.

The runs kept coming afterwards, not as fast as England wanted, but quickly enough for Flintoff to declare once the total had hit the 550 mark. Some thought at the time he should have batted on longer; Australia lost here with 556 only three years earlier. As it was, England soon found out what Australia had learned the hard way: it was no fun bowling on this. But they did make inroads with the new ball, and worried an unusually scratchy Ponting, who flirted with the exit several times. The most notable was on 35: he hooked Hoggard to the deep square boundary where Giles, in from the rope, misjudged the trajectory, and (some said) dropped the Ashes.

Ponting left scratchiness far behind but settled for a mere 142, his tenth hundred in the last 13 Tests, and a stand with Hussey of 192. Hussey hustled most impressively but narrowly missed his hundred; Clarke, only playing because Shane Watson was injured, asserted squatter's rights and made his. Gilchrist returned to form, and there was 43 from Warne - important in lots of ways, not least in helping England coach Duncan Fletcher justify his insistence on retaining Giles as a decent No. 8.

Hoggard finished with his third seven-for in Test cricket, a remarkable performance, bearing in mind that Warne (the 13th wicket of the match on the stroke of fourth-day tea) was arguably the first batsman who had not been dismissed by either the new ball or his own impetuosity.

Australia were just 38 behind, and only the TV commentators - paid to make the cricket sound interesting - and the English gloompot Geoff Boycott even tried to pretend there was any prospect of anything happening on the final day. Still, 20,000 turned up, but the weather was warmer now, and the Adelaide Oval an agreeably summery place to sit. They got their money's worth.

From the start, England's cricket seemed suddenly tentative. After Bucknor gave out Strauss (even the appeal sounded only three-quarter-hearted), the doubts turned into blind panic. Warne was turning the ball, but mainly out of the footmarks. And Lee was getting reverse swing. A few good hits, though, would have made England safe. They hit three fours in four hours.

Bell dithered disastrously over a single; Pietersen swept Warne and was bowled round his legs (the ball hit the outside of off stump). Mastery, eh? Then Flintoff swished aimlessly. Collingwood stood firm but was completely constricted and, though the tail did better than the body, England were gone by 3.42.

The gates were thrown open, and spectators began to arrive as they used to do when they heard Bradman was batting. Instead, it was his successors, Ponting and Hussey. There was a wobble when Ponting and Martyn went in quick succession; and Flintoff, leading the charge on his damaged ankle, nearly bowled what would have been the first maiden of the innings. But a wild Pietersen throw turned a last-ball three into a seven, and then for England there was only deflation.

Afterwards, the ageing Australian players galloped and danced with delight round the field before retreating into the evening shadows. Summed up the series, really.

Man of the Match: R. T. Ponting. Attendance: 136,761.

© Wisden Cricketers' Almanack
 
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