From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.32 :: NO.34 :: Aug. 22, 2009
It is celebration time for the Australians as Mitchell Johnson gets one past the defence of last batsman Graham Onions.
England’s dream — that they would win back the Ashes against an Australian side reforming after the retirement of so many of their great stars and emulate the wonderful feats of the heroes of 2005 — were dented before the fourth Test at Headingley began.
By the time the first hour had been completed it was fairly sure the game could not be won and by the time it finished, less than two and a half days later, the side was in chaos, there was a hectic cry for wholesale changes and once again the future of England’s international cricket was in crisis.
How could this be?
Many of us had fears that the glory boys under Andrew Strauss would not be able to maintain their form but had hidden our deepest concerns while there was a chance they might win back the only trophy that brings out the keenest emotions in the England fans.
There were signs of cracks when the last two men, James Anderson and Monty Panesar, held out in the final overs at Cardiff.
Andrew Flintoff, bowling like the giant of old, produced a rip-roaring victory in the second Test at Lord’s and England forced Australia to bat all the final day at Edgbaston to secure a draw.
So they went into the fourth Test full of confidence but they could not have anticipated the sequence of events which occurred in the half hour before the exchange of teams and the toss.
That brief period — when no cricket was being played of course but when things went dramatically wrong — proved to be the most difficult part of the match.
It was clear two days after the game had finished that England had decided to leave out Flintoff on the eve of the game but for some reason they maintained a pretence that the decision was held over until the morning.
One sees the hand of the public relations people in this ploy but, no matter, it was put forward as one of the excuses for the terrible showing by the England batsmen.
As Strauss was preparing for the toss he looked up to see that Matt Prior, the wicket-keeper, had gone down in a heap during a warm-up game of football and was complaining of back spasms.
Understandably, panic spread through the dressing room, while a dozen scenarios were invented only to be discarded when Prior announced the spasms were gone.
So Strauss went to the toss concerned about the outcome, wondering what he would do if he called correctly and with the announcement about Flintoff in the back of his mind because he would no doubt be questioned about it repeatedly in the next few minutes.
He won the toss and announced he would bat on what appeared to be a flat Headingley pitch. Oh dear, he must have known there is no such animal as a normal, flat, batsman’s pitch on a Leeds ground famous for gremlins, seriously affected by the weather and any other evidence of nature which happens to be around.
The toss had been delayed so that the Prior question could be sorted out and afterwards Strauss had to undertake three detailed interviews. He arrived at the crease 15 minutes later with his mind in turmoil, he was almost certainly lbw to the first ball from Ben Hilfenhaus and within two and a half hours the whole side had gone for 102.
What caused this astonishing collapse? Certainly the Australian attack bowled beautifully — mixing sharp, well-pitched up outswingers with aggressive bouncers — and there was a little help from the pitch.
But it was not a pitch on which any side would expect to be all out for 102. Runs came from Alastair Cook, who was not out until just before lunch and — here is the oddest fact of the day — from Prior.
The Australian pace bowlers Peter Siddle and Stuart Clark, who had been called up for just such a moment, mopped up most of the wickets.
The tale of the rest of the match barely needs telling. Ricky Ponting was batting before tea and played an exciting, almost festival, innings and the next day, Marcus North hit a century and Michael Clarke missed one narrowly, which gave Australia 445.
Oddly, Stuart Broad finished the innings with six for 91 after an up-and-down performance but it made no difference.
England, who had gone into the match anticipating that they might turn their 1-0 series lead into an Ashes regaining 2-0 were already defeated and although the tail hit bravely they were on their way back to their counties with less than half the time used. You can imagine the tidal wave of criticism, demands for changes and opinion that greeted their disaster.
It was made worse by the revelation that a dossier drawn up by Justin Langer, once Australia’s opening bat, now captain of Somerset, had been sent to the Aussie management to help their defeat of England.
It was detailed and personal and must have opened their eyes, coming from a man with a huge experience of English cricket.
It filled the tabloids as well as the serious newspapers and caused the England and Wales Cricket Board a lot of concern. There were also the comments of the stars of yesteryear who now filled the press boxes and the television commentary boxes.
The noisiest of those was Shane Warne who can be said to be doing as much damage as a commentator as he did with his leg breaks, his googly and whatever name he chose for the ball that turned neither from leg nor the off.
There was also a mighty dispute about Flintoff who let it be known through his manager that he had expected to play and told the team bosses that he was fit.
I heard on the morning of the first day that “Freddie is steaming” — ie steam was coming out of his ears — and he did not stay at the ground lest, I suspect, he allowed his anger to emerge. Two days after the match it was claimed he would be able to play in the fifth and final match at the Oval, which England must now win if they are to recapture the Ashes.
Their cause was not helped by suggestions that they might bring back the veteran Mark Ramprakash who averages 100 this summer but who is nearly 40 and whose Test performances have often been dire.
The whole scene adds up to another day of misery for England and their masters. They cannot, so it appears, put out a team in good order; a minimum requirement for a Test success.
Fourth Test, Headingley, August 7-9, 2009. Australia won by an innings and 80 runs.
England — 1st innings: A. Strauss c North b Siddle 3; A. Cook c Clarke b Clark 30; R. Bopara c Hussey b Hilfenhaus 1; I. Bell c Haddin b Johnson 8; P. Collingwood c Ponting b Clark 0; M. Prior (not out) 37; S. Broad c Katich b Clark 3; G. Swann c Clarke b Siddle 0; S. Harmison c Haddin b Siddle 0; J. Anderson c Haddin b Siddle 3; G. Onions c Katich b Siddle 0; Extras (b-5, lb-8, w-1, nb-3) 17. Total: 102.
Fall of wickets: 1-11, 2-16, 3-39, 4-42, 5-63, 6-72, 7-92, 8-98, 9-102.
Australia bowling: Hilfenhaus 7-0-20-1; Siddle 9.5-0-21-5; Johnson 7-0-30-1; Clark 10-4-18-3.
Australia — 1st innings: S. Watson lbw b Onions 51; S. Katich c Bopara b Harmison 0; R. Ponting lbw b Broad 78; M. Hussey lbw b Broad 10; M. Clarke lbw b Onions 93; M. North c Anderson b Broad 110; B. Haddin c Bell b Harmison 14; M. Johnson c Bopara b Broad 27; P. Siddle b Broad 0; S. Clark b Broad 32; B. Hilfenhaus (not out) 0; Extras (b-9, lb-14, w-4, nb-3) 30. Total: 445.
Fall of wickets: 1-14, 2-133, 3-140, 4-151, 5-303, 6-323, 7-393, 8-394, 9-440.
England bowling: Anderson 18-3-89-0; Harmison 23-4-98-2; Onions 22-5-80-2; Broad 25.1-6-91-6; Swann 16-4-64-0.
England — 2nd innings: A. Strauss lbw b Hilfenhaus 32; A. Cook c Haddin b Johnson 30; R. Bopara lbw b Hilfenhaus 0; I. Bell c Ponting b Johnson 3; P. Collingwood lbw b Johnson 4; J. Anderson c Ponting b Hilfenhaus 4; M. Prior c Haddin b Hilfenhaus 22; S. Broad c Watson b Siddle 61; G. Swann c Haddin b Johnson 62; S. Harmison (not out) 19; G. Onions b Johnson 0; Extras (b-5, lb-5, w-5, nb-11) 26. Total: 263.
Fall of wickets: 1-58, 2-58, 3-67, 4-74, 5-78, 6-86, 7-120, 8-228, 9-259.
Australia bowling: Hilfenhaus 19-2-60-4; Siddle 12-2-50-1; Clark 11-1-74-0; Johnson 19.3-3-69-5.
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