x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

England's relief must serve as Aussie ecstasy

Ricky Ponting, the Australia captain, should take England's relief as a positive ahead of the second Test at Lord's on Thursday.

After the third Test of the 2005 Ashes series was drawn in the gloaming at Old Trafford - Australia's last pair having survived the final four overs to save Ricky Ponting's blushes - England's captain Michael Vaughan drew his chagrined men together. "Look at them," he said. "Look at the Australians: their relief, their euphoria at merely saving a Test. That is a vulnerable team." Now the roles are reversed, and it is Ponting who will be imparting the same truths to his Australians after England's last line of resistance, James Anderson and Monty Panesar, lasted the final 69 deliveries of the first Test of the 2009 Ashes at Sophia Gardens.

This was a rout: Australia lost six wickets for 674 in 181 overs, England 19 for 687 in 212 overs. Australia's inability to take a 20th wicket leaves the teams all square for the Lord's Test beginning on Thursday. Australia went close - an inch or two would have done it. England's main man on the last day, Paul Collingwood, should have been snaffled at bat-pad before lunch when he was 11, but Katich, a foot too deep, fell a fingertip short of the catch. The miss' significance, as often in Test cricket, was understood only in retrospect, like one of those clues you kick yourself for overlooking in Agatha Christie: the telltale time of the delivery of a letter; a character's childhood fondness for EE Nesbit.

In hindsight, too, Marcus North and Brad Haddin should have trusted themselves to play through the bad light at the end of the third day; Andrew Strauss's remonstration with the umpires at the time is, in retrospect, ironic. The Australian media, as is their wont, lashed the English time-wasting in the last few overs, and not without reason, although it was also, strangely, part of the theatre of the climactic hour.

Here is cricket, with its staggering variety of stipulations and prohibitions, and nobody was quite sure whether the day was being played to overs or time, while there was nothing to prevent physio Steve McCaig at the death-knock waddling onto the ground for no earthly reason. Had it been an Indian Premier Leage game, of course, one would have sensed the pretext for extra advertisements. Australia did not make the best of the time allowed them. That Ben Hilfenhaus bowled no more than 12 overs on day five was puzzling. Ponting's faith in Nathan Hauritz was commendable, but spinners tire too, and Hauritz's fingers must have been worn out.

It is England, though, who have far more to chew on ahead of the re-match at a venue where they have won a solitary Ashes Test since 1896. England's first-innings 435 covered a multitude of sins. Pietersen's technique has become disturbingly busy - the footwork too premeditated, the backlift too high - and he has lost the front-foot stride that made his height such an advantage four years ago. His movements resemble a frantic wobbling of a gearstick that nonetheless leaves the car in neutral.

Much was heard in advance of the game about the contrasting qualities of the members of England's pace attack. The skills differed; the mediocrity was unanimous. Flintoff was fast in his first foray, slower with each succeeding spell. Panesar was a selection of misplaced nostalgia: built-in obsolescence, success at the start followed by diminishing returns, is common among finger spinners in international cricket these days, and he seems no exception.

The prediction for Lord's is another pudding pitch, as at Cardiff, implying that there will be few if any changes in either line-up, a case for the pace of Steve Harmison notwithstanding. Australia deserve to be favourites. Successful Ashes campaigns are built on a variety of emotional spurs: relief is not among them. sports@thenational.ae