x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

England hold on in shades of 2005 epic

One Test into the 2009 rubber between cricket's oldest rivals and this edition is already shaping up to be a thrilling series.

Brad Haddin, the Australian wicketkeeper, reacts after an edge from Stuart Broad, the England left-hander, flies through the slips on the final day.
Brad Haddin, the Australian wicketkeeper, reacts after an edge from Stuart Broad, the England left-hander, flies through the slips on the final day.

Whoever said this Ashes series could never match up to 2005? That was supposed to be the greatest series of them all, but, one Test into the 2009 rubber between cricket's oldest rivals, this edition is already zoning in on that mantle following a thrilling match in Wales. The merit of handing an MBE to Paul Collingwood for his bit part performance in that epic series four years ago may have been questioned by some.

But, whatever Shane Warne's opinion on the matter, England's supporters will feel he deserves a knighthood for the valiant rearguard which gave England the tensest of draws in Cardiff last night. He made a brilliant 74 in a 245-ball vigil, before leaving it to Monty Panesar and Jimmy Anderson to lead England home to a draw. There was no doubt that England dodged a bullet in the latest installment of Ashes classics.

The tourists dominated their top-order with the ball without any of their real bowling stars firing. Mitchell Johnson was out of sorts, even though he managed to pick up five wickets in the match, not least on the final evening when he sent down an assortment of wides which only aided England's cause. He came into the series ranked as the third best bowler in the world, following a glut of wickets against South Africa earlier this year, but his display in Cardiff fell well below those heights.

Brett Lee, the experienced fast-bowler, was a late withdrawal through injury, and the away team even opted to overlook the world's fourth best bowler in Tests, Stuart Clark. His unheralded locum, Ben Hilfenhaus, was the pick of their attack throughout the opening Test, and he set the Australians on their way when he grabbed the prize wicket of Kevin Pietersen. With Nathan Hauritz, the much maligned off-spinner, making a mockery of the pre-match predictions about his lack of potency, this new-look Australian attack proved to be wholly undervalued. Woe betide England if they actually bring their A-game to Lord's.

The home side's lower-order fared far better, however. If England can cling to one grain of comfort, it is that they bat low. Andrew Flintoff, who intimated before the game that he felt in good nick with the bat for the first time in a long time, again provided reason for optimism. He was asked to play out of character, and a different style of innings to his free-spirited knock of 37 in the first innings.

Yet he applied himself well as he shared a 57-run alliance with Collingwood. Flintoff used up 71 balls in making 26, before falling, guiding a catch to Australia's skipper, Ricky Ponting, at second slip. Graeme Swann, who had toiled through 38 overs of his main suit of off-spin for no reward earlier in the Test, supported Collingwood bravely. At one point he had been hit at various places on the body more times - four - than he had runs, as Peter Siddle, the fiery seam-bowler, sent down a sustained attack of short-pitch bowling.

He had the trainer on the field twice in successive balls after being caught on the finger first, then the elbow. The delays did little to improve Siddle's mood, and when he then hit Swann for a third time the very next ball his frustrations slipped out via an angry diatribe at the batsman. Swann is no shrinking violet himself. He gave a volley back, and it seemed to spark a new resolve in him. He made a spirited 31 only to play over one that keep low from the outstanding Hilfenhaus. When he fell, the baton passed to Jimmy Anderson. As the pressure told, Ponting risked the wrath of the match referee by imploring umpire Aleem Dar to give a bat-pad catch close in on the off-side off Hauritz.

He charged at the umpire, claiming it had deflected off the face of Collingwood's bat, but television technology suggested otherwise. But just when it seemed Collingwood had done the job he guided a catch off Siddle to Mike Hussey at gully, bringing to an end his long act of defiance. He fully deserved the standing ovation he received, though he exited with the look of someone who had just thrown away the Test. But Panesar, his batting buddy, showed he has picked up a thing or two about the art of defence off his mentor.

pradley@thenational.ae