Friday 1 December 2006

Honours even as England shun opportunity

Second Test, Adelaide
Day 1 Comment

England were given everything they could have asked for today, but lacked the decisiveness or confidence to take full advantage.

The conservatism directing England’s batting display was evident before the game began with Flintoff announcing an unchanged side. Many have argued that leaving out Monty Panesar was simply the result of a stubborn, pig-headedness of Duncan Fletcher. This may not have been the case. It remains a defensive selection but the reasons behind it may more subtle than many will give the coach credit for.

A change in selection policy after one, admittedly terrible, match may have sent signals to the opposition that they had upset England’s plans early on in the campaign. Australia has gone down a similar, ill-judged route. Keen to disprove to everyone that they are not an aging ‘Dad’s Army XI’ they played a half-fit McGrath. His presence in the field alone cost Australia two vital wickets – a run out of Collingwood and on the penultimate ball of the day, a tired missed catch off a Pietersen hook. The later miss may prove to be the difference in the match.
Despite the combination of an unfit McGrath, an out of form Lee and a first day pitch that most batsmen would spend their time dreaming about, England failed to win the day. They started appallingly, with Strauss (14) and Cook (27) playing themselves in, before getting themselves out tamely, to leave England 45-2.
England improved from there but Bell and even Collingwood initially batted for a session as if it were a net. On an easy paced pitch where 480 should be par, England seemed overly content with occupying the crease; even if it meant letting the game drift aimlessly. Half volleys were patted straight to fielders and there was no urgency in the running between wickets.

When Bell was finally dismissed for a hard-graft, though undamaging 60, Pietersen took to the crease and inject purpose into England’s performance. His battles with Shane Warne made compelling viewing, and aside from Tendulkar in India, few have ever played Warne better. Like Ricky Ponting, Pietersen picks up length so early, that if a bowler errs even slightly short, he can rock back and cut with power and precision.

It is momentum that affects the pressure and the mental resolve of each side. The problem for England is, with the approach they adopted for most of the day, they did not shift the momentum. If they had been bolder and shown greater belief in themselves, they could have clawed back the momentum from the opening test – as they did at Edgbaston in 2005. As it is, if England lose two quick wickets tomorrow, the momentum will be entirely with Australia and England would have gained nothing.

Predictably though, the good score could not temper the overblown reactions of the media or many armchair barmy army, who had abandoned all hope day before yesterday, but have now returned to full voice.

For the rest of us, we can breath a sigh of relief that after the first day, we are still in the game. The first hour tomorrow, as always, will be vital. If Collingwood and Pietersen can complete and then build on centuries then it could give a chance for Flintoff to finally ‘express himself’ against the old ball. Five hundred is not enough to win this test match but England are more then capable of reaching a total that can.

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