Australia face their day of destiny
The Australian view after the fourth day of the third Test at Old Trafford
Jason Gillespie: Just four overs in the second innings, on a desperate day for Australia © Getty Images|
Australia face their most important day of the series on Monday. The same thing was said yesterday and last week, and will probably be repeated at Trent Bridge as well. Each time it has been true. But if they go 2-1 down from this point it could be fatal.
Playing catch-up for two weeks, Australia's mood must surely have hit rock-bottom in the field today as England piled on misery and a lead that finally stopped at 422. A draw would feel like a win against these flames of pressure.
Before a ten-day break for navel-gazing, Australia must get through day five. The batsmen who created the mess now have their chance to steady a side suffering a staggering case of vertigo. Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer were unscathed at stumps, with a world-record run required for victory. Arthur Morris and Don Bradman steered Australia to a similar-scaled target in 1948, but in the current outfit's position that sort of chase deserves to stay in cobwebbed books.
The team has been a great exponent of mental and physical toughness, now its individuals must reproduce the steel that propelled them to the top of the world. Apart from Michael Clarke, each of the recognised batsmen have fought back from being dumped. Through those wilderness years they looked inward, realised what they desperately wanted and did everything to make it happen. The qualities - durability, tunnel-vision concentration and looking after themselves - pushed them to greatness that must be repeated for a successful rescue act.
Firstly, they will need to forget a day that was ridiculously frustrating. They woke to a newspaper story of a supposed rift between Ricky Ponting and Shane Warne, but even though it was denied there was no hiding from desperately low morale for anyone wearing baggy green. It's difficult to remember a day when they have looked as collectively dispirited. There has been less head-shaking in a fired-up mosh pit.
Adam Gilchrist missed two stumpings and a catch from Warne to show he was capable of keeping up with the opposition's Joneses, Ponting's arms were regularly crossed and Warne and Glenn McGrath muttered angrily. Never would they have expected Test newbies such as Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell to be laughing as comfortably as they posted boundaries. Four days ago Strauss was Warne's bunny; today he was a century-maker.
Warne, who had earlier scored an incredibly impressive 90, joined Brett Lee in calling "catch" a lot, but only three offerings in the deep went to hand as England's lead swelled. And swelled. Jason Gillespie was given four overs in a sign that his series - perhaps his career - is almost certainly over.
There were no smiles until McGrath offered a coy one on picking up his fifth wicket. After bowling superbly for his 0 for 86 in the first innings - his worst figures in 111 Tests - he followed it with an afternoon to destroy from the memory, especially the two sixes Geraint Jones slogged in the over before Michael Vaughan waved the declaration as casually as David Gower.
Little has gone right for Australia in Tests two and three, but they cannot wallow like victims. They should remember their world-champion status and show they still deserve it. This side doesn't do gritty draws, but it's time to tick that box and benefit from the confidence boost when they arrive at Trent Bridge. Forget copying the Invincibles, it's time to become the Dependables.
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo