So bad was England's performance on the opening day that the optimists joked it could scarcely get any worse. They were wrong. In fact, this latest offering was all the more disappointing given the fact that the home side had at least been given the luxury of a full night's sleep.
Having looked hopeless with the bat, England verged on the amateurish with the ball as they gifted Australia a 343-run lead with a possible - although unlikely - three painstaking days still remaining. Both Andrew Strauss and Ravi Bopara were dismissed in consecutive deliveries late in the day, although the Essex man did appear to receive an unfortunate lbw decision. Ian Bell, Alastair Cook and Paul Collingwood all followed just before close of play.
Should England survive up to the final day it will probably only be courtesy of the country's schizophrenic weather rather than anything their players can muster. Steve Harmison and James Anderson, who looked to be struggling with a hamstring injury throughout his short spell, were simply woeful as Australia tucked into some diabolical deliveries. Resuming on 196 for four, Marcus North and Michael Clarke went on to add 152 before the latter was given out lbw off the bowling of Graham Onions just seven runs short of his century.
North, however, was not to be denied his moment of glory, claiming his third Test match ton by hoisting Graeme Swann straight down the ground for six before holding his arms aloft to take in the adulation from the Australian balcony. While North and Clarke batted exquisitely at times, they will scarcely have a more comfortable or enjoyable stay at the crease in their careers. Stuart Broad's figures of six for 91 were immensely flattering on a day where England's bowlers masqueraded as international cricketers.
Eventually dismissed for 445, Australia then began their assault on levelling the series after tea but initially found Strauss and Cook in determined mood. The duo helped England pass 50 without too many concerns before Strauss fell lbw to Ben Hilfenhaus for 32 before the unfortunate Bopara went for a golden duck. Bell was then caught by Australian captain Ricky Ponting for three. Not since 1864 have England managed to pull off a result of a similar magnitude. On that occasion, they came from 261 runs adrift to defeat Australia in Sydney. But even the most ardent and hard-hearted of Englishmen would find any room for encouragement following their side's latest offering.
The talk from the England camp had been positive with wicketkeeper Matt Prior insisting his side would improve from their opening day horror show. But if the expectation that a good night's sleep would consign the sheer mediocrity of England's bowling to the past then those arriving in Leeds yesterday morning were in for a rude awakening. Both Harmison and Anderson bowled short and wide allowing Clarke and North all the time in the world to pick their spot and clatter the ball to the boundary at will.
Neither batsman appeared troubled at the crease and although the ball did little in batting-friendly conditions, the inability of the England bowlers to hit the right spot will cause Strauss plenty of concern. Clarke had looked poised to make his third century of the series until Onions made the breakthrough for England after having the batsman adjudged lbw. It was a huge wicket for England and when Broad swept through the tail, North was left facing a race against time to complete his hundred.
Fortunately he found a willing ally in Stuart Clark and while the paceman hit three sixes on his way to 32, North eventually reached three figures to fire Australia into an invincible position. Strauss and Cook strode to the crease already doomed and although they saw off the initial threat from the new ball, neither man appeared comfortable with the intensity of the situation. The England captain had made 32 by the time he was given out lbw off the bowling of Hilfenhaus to give Australia the wicket they so badly craved.
Bopara followed next ball, although he will be disappointed with umpire Asad Rauf's decision to give him lbw as there appeared to be a deflection from the bat onto the pad. That will quite possibly be Bopara's last appearance in this summer's Ashes but given this latest performance, there are likely to be more casualties before the fifth and final Test. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org