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Early X’mas for England

It was only a morning, but it was one of the great mornings for England cricket in modern times. No weather to save Australia. In winning the second Test overwhelmingly, by an innings and 71 runs, they have achieved what no England side has managed for 24 years and won a Test in Australia while the Ashes were still at stake.

cricket Updated: Dec 08, 2010 00:59 IST

It was only a morning, but it was one of the great mornings for England cricket in modern times. No weather to save Australia. In winning the second Test overwhelmingly, by an innings and 71 runs, they have achieved what no England side has managed for 24 years and won a Test in Australia while the Ashes were still at stake.

This represents a hammer blow to Australia, who must now win two of the final three Tests if they are to regain the Ashes, a prospect not helped by the news that their opener Simon Katich will miss the remaining matches with an Achilles injury.

There were tense final moments as England, a bowler down because of the injury to Stuart Broad, which has also finished his involvement in the series, sought the final wicket with the two Australian tailenders at the crease. To gasps from the crowd and players, balls beat the bat.

Finally, at 11.27am precisely, almost an hour and a half into the day, Graeme Swann spun an off-break through the gate left by Peter Siddle to hit off stump and spark celebrations.

Swann had taken the last three wickets to finish with five for 91 and confirm his status as the leading spinner in world cricket. It was Swann who took the final wicket at The Oval when the Ashes were won last year. Only Marcus North, for almost an hour, offered resistance as Mike Hussey went to Steve Finn and the new ball for 52, and the tail folded. In 17 overs England took six for 64.

Such has been the efficiency of England's approach into the Ashes series and dominance of the second Test that it almost seemed too good to be true, with a setback lurking round the corner waiting to mug them.

At first it seemed as if a little of the spirit had drained from the England team as Broad watched from the dressing room, contemplating a lonely journey home.

The team is one that thrives in adversity, however: the rearguard actions in Cardiff last year and Brisbane last week have both been followed by outstanding performances in their next games.

There was also the manner in which they shrugged off the 2009 Headingley debacle in the fourth Test to win at The Oval. For this morning, there was a potential heap of work in the hands of Finn and Jimmy Anderson.

With North new to the crease, England delayed taking the new ball which was due immediately. Kevin Pietersen finished his over from the previous evening, Swann switching ends.

Strauss decided to take the new ball after six overs, at 248 for four, and immediately North took boundaries from Finn, to third man, and Anderson, through extra cover.

Finn has a wicket-taking knack, however, and with the second delivery of his next over he made a vital breakthrough as Hussey, attempting to pull, miscued to Anderson at mid-on, who made no mistake, sending the ball into orbit in celebration.

Throughout this game Anderson, seeking swing, has pitched a full length and leaked runs as a result. But when there is movement none in world cricket is more dangerous, and suddenly he propelled England onwards, wickets coming with successive deliveries.

First Brad Haddin, not on Anderson's Christmas card list, edged an away-swinger in routine fashion to Prior, and then Ryan Harris, on a king pair, duly completed that indignity, padding up to a clever inswinger, his inevitable referral confirming the decision.

The gates were open and two balls later Swann removed North, who had pushed forwards to a ball that pitched in line and turned, England's referral overturning the not-out decision of Tony Hill.

Three wickets then for no runs in four balls. Swann was not to be denied. Xavier Doherty was bamboozled by a ball that went straight through the left-hander's defence, and Siddle was befuddled by the turn. This was a majestic performance.