It is almost beyond dreaming that even a large measure of the resolve they have called upon during their renaissance of the past few years will save England from defeat in the first Test of this Ashes rematch. When Ian Bell survived a loud shout as the shadows moved closer to the pitch with metaphorical menace, he was given the opportunity to do no more than shore up a near-hopeless situation.
There are, notionally, three days left, but both openers and Paul Collingwood are back in the hutch and England are only 53 runs into Australia’s 602. That’s some gig.
They can hardly blame the pitch. It has bounce but not much devil. Simply, Australia batted superbly and all of England’s bowlers, barring Andrew Flintoff and Hoggard, disappointed. When England batted, Glenn McGrath rediscovered all his old magic.
Earlier, England toiled all day. There was little spark. Ponting and Michael Hussey batted as if they were going to be there until Christmas. There were no edges, no run-out chances, no hope.
However, in the 107th over, a steepling, brutish delivery by Flintoff looked to nick Ponting’s bat handle on its way to Geraint Jones. He was a mere 167 at the time. A disbelieving Flintoff could do no more than stand gob-smacked, his appeal for caught behind denied by Steve Bucknor.
Then, in a perfect riposte to his perceived injustice, Flintoff plucked out Hussey’s off-stump to offer England some hope. Some overs later, Bucknor finally, slowly, thankfully raised his finger of death and Ponting was on his way for 196. It was a truly fine innings.
Hoggard was the grateful recipient of the lbw decision and his mood was immediately enhanced when he trapped Gilchrist immobile in front for 0. Clarke went at tea, Anderson’s swing luring him into one flashy shot too many. Lusty hitting by Brett Lee and Stuart Clark then took Australia past 600. Worse was to follow.
In two balls, McGrath, rising 38, put England firmly on the rack. A rising cutter induced a poor hook from Strauss’s bat as he was gobbled by Hussey at square-leg. He then snared Alastair Cook off the next delivery. , And although he couldn’t get a hat-trick, he’d done enough. He’d ensured the game now had gone almost irretrievably Australia’s way.