A small step to redemption
The Australian view after the third day of the third Test at Old Trafford
Shane Warne reaches his half-century on a good, if brief, day for Australia
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Australia's best day of the past two Tests lasted only 14 overs, but as small victories go it could have a significant impact on the series. Crammed between the showers they breezed past the follow-on mark during the first mini-session, and face a much more attractive equation to escape from England's vice.
In a series that has already had more turning points that a maths lesson on parabolas, this could be another one. Three days of struggle is now a manageable two, and the mission is similar to a football fixture at Old Trafford: settle for a draw and get the hell out of there. If the Australian batsmen can spurn glitter for guts, as Shane Warne has throughout the match, they have ten days to rest, recover and regenerate for the fourth Test at Trent Bridge.
Australians are not in the habit of wishing for rain days - in recent times they've got enough time off with three- and four-day victories - but the wet windows this morning must have brought fist pumps in the team hotel. A couple of hours watching the Wallabies, who are knee-deep in a dispiriting rough patch, giving up a useful lead before being over-run by the All Blacks will have offered some light relief for the cricketers and a reminder of their plight.
The good news didn't stop with the weather, and by the time play started at 4pm the follow-on had been reduced by four runs. Steve Bucknor had forgotten to signal a boundary to a Simon Jones no-ball that went for four on day two, and the addition was accepted like extra marks.
Warne walked out with the figure of 245 on his mind to avoid giving Michael Vaughan the option of making Australia bat again. England have shown they are susceptible to counter-attacks when they are on top - the final session of the first day at Lord's and the thrilling end to Edgbaston - and Warne quickly rendered the decision redundant as he danced at Ashley Giles.
The final over of the opening stanza was most revealing. With rain starting to sprinkle, Warne took 12 from Giles: a six over midwicket, a top-edged sweep for two and a straight-drive for four to wipe the deficit to 199. As the players ran off Warne and Jason Gillespie had reason to feel buoyant, as they did a second time when they cut off a further 19 in the six overs before stumps.
Warne, who was given two chances by Geraint Jones on 55 and 68, reached his 11th half-century, and after the impressive focus he has shown alongside mostly blurry team-mates, another 22 runs and a maiden hundred would be a suitable reward. Gillespie was at his most obdurate and Australia will love him for it.
While Warne can briefly consider another monumental individual achievement, his compatriots must zero in on the magnitude of their task. On a severely abbreviated day they have won back some psychological territory. Tiny steps must become large ones.
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo