Saturday 11 July 2009

England wait for rain as Australia march to victory

Day 4 - Close

It has taken just four days for anticipation to turn to despair. It sounds familiar but unlike the last Ashes series, talent doesn't separate these teams. So what does?

Test cricket is an examination of skill, fitness and ultimately desire. Unlike the shortened format there is no defined escape, no artificial breaks and no contrived opportunities. You are subjected solely to the will of the opposition. If, like Australia, they are intent on remorseless punishment, then that is what you receive.

Batting first on a flat pitch England had an opportunity to boss the game. All the batsmen made starts and none made a hundred. Pietersen rightly attracts attention and, as I said at the time, his dismissal could decide this test match, but all the batsmen were at fault. Prior and Flintoff’s breezy partnership was enjoyable but never match winning. The England players and supporters were content to see a dash to 400, rather than a grind to 600. Four years ago it made sense, but this Australian attack does not demand a gung-ho approach. The England batsmen should have the belief and desire to bat Australia out of contention.

Today England left their hearts and brains in the dressing room waiting for rain while Haddin and North tore them to pieces. Ponting may not match Warne tactically, but he inspires his team and has out-manoeuvred Strauss by a distance.

Before the post-mortem, England has an opportunity exert their character on Australia tomorrow. A final day pitch soaked in pressure is always full of gremlins, but England need to demonstrate their desire for this contest. Their approach has to be positive and as ever, a lot will fall on the shoulders of KP. It's not without irony that Nathan Hauritz, much derided, presents their biggest headache.

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