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Aussie juggernaut steamrollers sorry England

England captain Andrew Strauss will be praying for rain if the hosts are to avoid going to Lord's one down against Australia.

Reports of the demise of the Australian aura of invincibility have been greatly exaggerated. Shane Warne, Matthew Hayden and the rest have moved aside, but Australia are far from a spent force, judging by the evidence of their ruthless display in the opening 2009 Ashes Test so far. This was supposed to be the series when England matched their old rivals. Many had them down as the slight favourites before this opening Test in Cardiff. Instead it was a return to the bad old days when they so frequently crumbled without a whimper in the face of Australian-induced adversity. The replacements for Australia's now retired old guard have proved their worth already. Brad Haddin is one of a number of players in this touring squad who has an impossible task in bettering what went before him. For Nathan Hauritz it was Warne. For Ben Hilfenhaus it was Glenn McGrath. For Haddin it was Adam Gilchrist, the greatest wicket-keeper batsman of all time. Haddin has to try to forge a reputation for himself in the shadow of the decorated Gilchrist but he is going the right way about getting noticed.

The wicket-keeper is already so highly thought of in the Australian set up that he has captained the national team in limited-overs cricket. He is 31 now, and has played relatively few Test matches, just 15. However, he posted a second Test century in this match, putting on 200 for the sixth wicket with Marcus North. When he fell, caught at cow corner for 121 after going for a fourth six as he upped the rate, Ricky Ponting finally ended the misery of England's bowlers, calling time on his side's innings at a mammoth 674 for six. England's stint in the field was funereal. All five of their main bowlers, who had attracted all manner of plaudits before the series start, haemorrhaged in excess of 100 runs.

Worse still was the disregard with which they seemed to treat this. Andrew Flintoff, Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson, the vaunted seam-attack, were the first past that particular post. Shamefully, they appeared to toast the feat by shaking each other's hands. Flintoff has noticeably attempted to bring levity to everything he has done in this match, which is perhaps his way of coping with the burden of expectation on him. However, this gag was ill-timed and ill-conceived. When England regained the urn for the first time in 18 years back in 2005, they stuck with the same playing XI until the final Test. That involved sticking with the same side who lost the opening match at Lord's, but it would be a brave decision to stand by this line-up if they do lose on the final day. Those clamouring for the return of the enigmatic fast-bowler, Stephen Harmison, will certainly have a case to be heard, given the impotency of the bowlers this week. As they traipsed from the field, England looked totally deflated, and worse was still to follow. Alastair Cook, having spent 181 overs plodding the outfield chasing leather, stuck around for a mere 12 balls of the reply. England's batsmen were chastised for failing to cash in on a docile pitch on day one, and Cook missed out for a second time when he played around a straight ball from Mitchell Johnson and was trapped on the pad. To compound England's misery, the ball from Hilfenhaus which had Ravi Bopara lbw soon after appeared to be bouncing over the stumps. When rain curtailed the proceedings at tea, England were flagging at 20 for two. There is little doubt the dark thoughts which nearly broke a number of their players when they were thrashed 5-0 in Australia a year and a half ago will be gnawing away just under the surface. If they are to start Thursday's second Test at Lord's level, England will need their major players to show character today. That, or start a rain dance. pradley@thenational.ae

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