If, and it's still a big if, England are to win only their 10th Test match in the last 38 against Australia history suggests they are going to do it the hard way.
Wanted: a Lord's hero
LONDON // If, and it's still a big if, England are to win only their 10th Test match in the last 38 against Australia, end their 75-year hoodoo at Lord's and go one up in this gripping series then history suggests they are probably going to do it the hard way and require a match-winning performance from someone in the last innings.
Andrew Flintoff did it at Edgbaston in 2005, Simon Jones (five wickets) at Trent Bridge in the same series, Andy Caddick (seven wickets) at Sydney in 2003, Mark Butcher (173 not out) at Headingley in 2001 and Dean Headley (six wickets) at Melbourne in 1998. Need I go on? Those last three cameos came in consolation victories. This Ashes contest, on the other hand, is very much alive and a match- winning individual display always ranks higher when the stakes are raised.
Victory here - England are 311 for six, a lead of 521 - would be a huge psychological fillip for England, particularly as it would come hot on the heels of the stirring rescue-act in Cardiff. Graeme Swann played his part with bat in the act of escapology at Sophia Gardens but, on the evidence of the turn Nathan Hauritz, who has transformed himself from supposed no-hoper to the leading wicket taker in the series, extracted yesterday in claiming the first three England wickets to fall, the Nottinghamshire twirler will be licking his lips at the prospect of bowling on this Lord's surface. Swann bowled only one over in Australia's first innings, which ended on 251 before lunch, but he can expect a long bowl during potentially, the next two days.
When Andrew Strauss decides to declare today - he will do it, you suspect, before lunch to enable England's nicely-rested bowlers two bites with the new ball - Australia will need to eclipse the 418 for seven a Brian Lara inspired West Indies side chased down to beat them in 2003, the highest successful run chase. Shane Warne, the retired Australian leg-spinner, is confident Australia still have enough time left in the game to launch a run chase but he is the most myopic of antipodeans.
The visitors would probably fancy their chances if Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer and Adam Gilchrist were still in their ranks, but the class of 2009 showed very little evidence in their first innings of being able to keep Flintoff and the in-form Jimmy Anderson at bay long enough to complete this mountainous task, even though the pitch remains true. Much will hinge on Ricky Ponting, the captain, and he will need to produce a repeat of the 156 he scored at Old Trafford in 2005 - an innings he ranks as his finest - if the tourist are to get even close.
If England do get their noses in front then they may conceivably have to attempt to defend, let alone extend, their advantage in the remaining three Test matches without Pietersen. The adopted Englishman is being increasingly hampered by an Achilles problem and he was far from his fluent and dominating best yesterday during another schizophrenic innings. It spoke volumes for Pietersen's strength of character that he was able to battle his way to 44 before inside edging a delivery from Peter Siddle to Brad Haddin. Pietersen did not wait for the umpire's decision. He was perhaps glad that his personal torment had been ended.
"I don't think he is struggling, I know he is struggling," said Ian Botham, the former England all-rounder and adviser to Pietersen. "He could be in for a long vacation. He has had a series of injections and it doesn't seem to have worked. "He is struggling and it's affecting the way he bats. If he does tear it he could be out for six months or longer." firstname.lastname@example.org