Report by Neil Robinson 16/08/05
Australian captain Ricky Ponting, has come in for a fair amount of stick lately. Ever since that fateful decision to put England in first at Edgbaston he has been under pressure, pressure which the poor form of some of his players and the growing suspicion that Michael Vaughan is his tactical superior has only served to increase. But it is a major part of a captain’s duties to lead from the front, and Ponting did this in wonderful style, standing firm as his fellow batsmen crumbled around him, to earn Australia a fighting draw in the third Test at Old Trafford.
Things certainly looked grim for Australia as the fifth day began. Chasing a theoretical target of 423 to win, the only realistic option was to bat through the extended final day of 98 overs to avoid going 2-1 down in the series. Slowly but surely, England chipped away at the Australian batting, until Ponting was left with only the tail for company and an uncomfortable amount of time remaining. But Ponting stood firm; through 410 minutes and 275 balls he presented a rock-like defence and still managed to carve out 156 runs. It was an epic innings, characterised by sublime footwork and outstanding judgement, without which Australia would have sunk without trace.
It is not difficult to imagine how he must have felt, for all his defiant effort, when, with the job almost done, he managed to glove Harmison down the leg side to Geraint Jones to leave his last wicket pair facing the last four overs alone. As the umpire’s finger went up, he stared back blankly and gulped. But the pain on his face was to turn to relief and to joy as Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath held on gamely to secure the draw and leave this wonderful series wide open. It was a fitting end to a stirring match, witnessed by a capacity crowd of 21,000, with almost as many turned away at the gates as Ashes fever takes the land by storm. Few of them will have seen anything like it, although one man on the pitch who might have was Ashley Giles who may remember Angus Fraser blocking out Allan Donald’s final over here seven years ago in his debut Test.
The first amazing event of an amazing match was when Australia were able to announce a full strength side before the toss. Brett Lee had spent two nights in hospital after Edgbaston with a knee infection, but showed no ill-effects here. More astonishingly, Glenn McGrath, just one week after suffering an ankle injury which might have finished his series, was passed fit to play. This apparent boost for Australia caused many raised eyebrows; those who remember the wonders worked by Physio Erroll Allcott on Stephen Waugh’s torn calf four years ago were again singing his praises, but it is one thing getting a batsman fit (and remember Waugh missed a Test after suffering his injury and broke down again when recalled - even though he did score a hundred), it is quite another getting a fast bowler fit to bowl repeated lengthy spells over five days with two more Tests to come. Although it turned out that McGrath was able to go the distance, his selection was still a huge gamble; and sides which feel complete confidence in themselves do not feel the need to gamble with a player. It was a decision reminiscent of England’s in bringing an ailing Darren Gough on their last tour down under.
McGrath bowled well in the game, although after his first few overs he was a little down in pace and there were more release balls on the pads than batsmen are used to receiving from him. He did have some bad luck however; firstly in England winning the toss and batting, thus denying him the luxury of another day or so recovering in the dressing room, secondly in dropped catches. Three went down off his bowling in the first innings, one of them he dropped himself. But the first was probably the most crucial; in his third over a loose drive by Trescothick was put down by Gilchrist, a one handed drop similar to one spilled by Geraint Jones at Lord’s.
Despite the early loss of Strauss to a splendid slower ball from Lee, this let-off for Trescothick allowed England to dominate the first day. He soon settled in to a typically positive partnership worth 137 with his captain, Michael Vaughan. These two have a wonderful understanding when they run between the wickets, and this helped England achieve a good momentum even when Australia’s bowlers were disciplined, as they too often weren’t. After a fiery start, Lee was sucked into bowling too short, which is always a mistake against Trescothick in particular, except on the very fastest of pitches. But once again the real weak link of the attack was Jason Gillespie.
It is a sad thing to see a once great sportsman suffering the ravages of time. Gillespie looked a forlorn figure for most of this match, as England’s dominance grew all the Australians showed poor body language at some point, but Gillespie was a chronic case. As soon as took the ball it was England’s signal to attack, and as the game wore on Ponting showed increasingly little confidence in him. The key with Gillespie is length and swing; in his pomp he could bowl the ball much fuller than most bowlers without being driven because of his command of very late swing, which turned half-volleys into wicket-taking balls. Now those same full-length balls are two yards slower and no longer swing. They are easily driven. He no longer has the pace to worry batsmen with the short ball, and he never had the accuracy to bowl back-of-a-length like McGrath. One of the clearest differences between the two sides in the last two games has been that while England have a five-man attack who which works well together, Australia effectively have a three-man attack. Two of the three are legends admittedly, but great as they are, McGrath and Warne cannot bowl all the time.
Vaughan announced himself with an imperious back foot drive off McGrath, then proceded to pepper the off-side boundary with wonderful shots. Like Trescothick, he had some luck; just after lunch he top-edged a cut off McGrath only for Gilchrist to put down another chance in front of first slip. The very next ball he drove airily and lost his off-stump, but it was a no-ball. After that it was the Vaughan of old, concentrating mostly on straight bat shots off front and back foot. Most spectators were wondering why Warne was not already into the attack, and by the time he did come on it was 131-1, and both batsmen were purring along nicely.
Vauhgan has always looked the most assured of England’s batsmen against Warne, not as destructive as Pietersen, but able to play him defensively without getting in a tangle. He treated Warne’s opening salvo with respectful confidence, then struck another couple of crisp off-side boundaries off McGrath. Already, on the first afternoon, McGrath was now bowling with just one slip and a sweeper on the cover boundary. It was luck that brought the second wicket for Australia; Trescothick, trying to sweep Warne, squeezed the ball between glove and pad, on to the back of his bat as it followed through, on to Gilchrist’s thigh and up into his gloves.
Sensing a breakthrough, Australia made Ian Bell work hard for an hour up to tea, but the young Warwickshire batsman battled on bravely, growing in stature by the minute. He had a lucky break after tea, when deceived by a McGrath slower ball only for the return catch to be put down. At this point Bell was completely becalmed on 18, but he did not panic and showed massive pluck where a lesser man might have given it away.
At the other end Vaughan was imperious. He went to his 100 off 163 balls, then accelerated. When Gillespie came on he was immediately pulled for 6 by the England captain, who later went to 150 with the second of three successive fours off Gillespie, two glorious straight drives either side of the bowler, followed up with a sumptuous pull. Vaughan’s timing was unbelieveable, as was his restraint in not playing the pull until he had passed 100. He had one further slice of luck on 141, put down by Hayden at slip off Warne, a hard low chance at a point in the game where Australia seemed to be drifting.
Gillespie was removed after 4 overs which cost 42. But the breakthrough came soon after when Vaughan finally slapped Katich straight to long on for 166. With a double in his sights, he was distraught, but it was a magnificent innings none the less. Now England slightly lost their momentum as the close approached. First Pietersen, having got to 21, hooked Lee straight into the trap at deep square leg, then nightwatchman Hoggard lost his off-stump to the last ball of the day. Bell moved to a worthy 50 off 132 balls, but England were in danger of falling short of the massive total they had in their sights.
Bell failed to add to his overnight total, although again he may have been unlucky. Given out caught behind trying to hook Lee (a bad misjudgement in any case) there was no evidence on the replay of any edge, and umpire Bucknor, who shot a questioning glance to his square-leg colleague Billy Bowden before raising his finger, may have been deceived by swing after the ball passed the bat. But England pressed on thanks to a positive partnership between Flintoff and Geraint Jones. A brief break for rain caused Australia trouble with a wet ball and damp footholds and both batsmen were happy to receive rapid full-tosses instead of yorkers from Lee. Even Warne began to take some stick, and the toll would have been worse were it not for the sweepers on the boundary.
A frustrated Ponting turned again to Gillespie, who served up a tempting selection of long-hops. Even when Flintoff mishit a pull it sped all along the ground through mid-off for four. But the innings eventually subsided after Flintoff holed out off Warne, and England’s final total of 444 once again looked short of the substantial innings they had wanted to bat Australia out of the game.
In reply Australia advanced rapidly to 58, Hayden showing increased confidence but lucky to survive a good lbw shout off Hoggard early on. The first wicket fell to Giles, trusted with the ball by his captain earlier than Ponting had trusted Warne, when Langer gave a sharp bat-pad catch to Bell. Ponting survived to tea, but first ball after the break he got a beauty from Simon Jones which lifted from a length, caught the shoulder of the bat and flew to gully. Hayden was perhaps lucky to survive an lbw shout from Jones, but this only partly made up for the ill-luck he suffered in the next over when given out lbw to Giles when struck fractionally outside the line.
Australia were well on the back foot now, no small thanks to a fine spell from Simon Jones (8-3-18-1). Another crucial difference between the sides at this stage of the series is their respective command of reverse swing, especially vital on a dry pitch such as this. England have collectively been able to generate this swing much earlier than Australia, almost immediately after the conventional swing fades in fact, and this has allowed them to keep the pressure on Australia’s batsmen for extended periods. All England’s bowlers have had their moments with this, but the two masters are Flintoff and Jones, the latter in particular, with his vertical arm and bolt upright seam, has an action made for the art of swinging it both ways.
It was Flintoff who gave the next masterclass; just before the drinks break he had tested Katich with a series of outswingers angled into him from around the wicket. First ball after the break he bowled another on the same angle, to which Katich shouldered arms, but it was the inswinger and zipped back to remove his off -stump. Sheer brilliance. Australia were soon in deeper trouble when Giles came up with the ball of his dreams, pitching just outside leg, beating the immaculate forward defence of Martyn and hitting the top of off stump. It was almost identical to the ball with which he defeated Chris Cairns at Trent Bridge last year, the ball which finally got the press off his back and cemented his place in the side.
129 for 5, and Australia on the brink. Worse still, Michael Clarke, who had been off the field with back spasms since the first morning, had only been summoned from the team hotel at the fall of Katich’s wicket, and so was not on the ground yet. In came Warne to join Gilchrist, but now England began to make mistakes just when they most needed to avoid them. In one Flintoff over Gilchrist was put down twice, first a hard chance to Bell in the gully, second an easier one to Pietersen at cover.
These slips allowed the veteran pair to add a vital 53 runs, working harder to do so than they would be used to, before Simon Jones returned to find the edge of Gilchrist’s bat with the first ball of a new spell. This brought in Clarke, in evident discomfort, each time he played forward he had to lever himself upright again by leaning on his bat. It was no surprise when he slapped Jones’s slower ball tamely to mid-off.
At 197-7 Australia were in serious danger of having to follow on for the first time since Karachi in 1988. Clearly Warne has no intention of letting that ever happen during his career and began to shepherd Gillespie in a defiant stand. At times Warne’s batting was reminiscent of Kapil Dev’s at Lord’s in 1990, when he also batted with the tail to save the follow on, and did so largely by hitting the spinners over the top for six. Few would have guessed that Warne would not take another wicket in the match, but he was to cause England no end of trouble with the bat.
England were hard pressed to find a way past Warne, but there was nothing they could do about the rain which took out all but one hour of the third day’s play. In the two brief sessions available, Warne went past 50 and saved the follow on, while England missed him twice. Both errors were down to the keeper, Geraint Jones, who missed a fairly straightforward stumping when the ball turned and bounced out of the rough, then late in the day he dropped a caught behind off Flintoff, perhaps blinded by the low evening sun behind the bowler’s arm. Both were part of the trade-off which comes with picking a wicket-keeper primarily for his batting.
Warne advanced merrily to 90 on the fourth morning, until he hooked Jones, again striking early in a new spell, down to deep square leg. Then Jones cleaned up the rest of the innings, swinging one away to force an edged drive from Lee, then nipping one back to trap Gillespie lbw. Jones claimed a well deserved bag of 6-53, and England had a lead of 142. Formidable enough, but the time lost to rain meant they would have to go at some rate to set a big enough target and give themselves time to bowl Australia out a second time.
Ponting caused a few more raised eyebrows when he placed a short straight mid-off for Trescothick, just as Vaughan had for Hayden. There is some point to it in Hayden’s case, he likes to hit hard in the ‘v’ and doesn’t always get his weight forward early on, but Trescothick is much more a square of the wicket, back foot player, unlikely to hit the ball anywhere near the fielder. It smacked of Ponting placing the man there just to show he could be inventive too.
It made little difference, England were soon motoring nicely along, despite Strauss taking a nasty blow on the neck from Lee for the second time in the match. By the time the score reached 50, Warne was getting loose for a bowl, which may explain why his mind was elsewhere and he left an edge from Strauss as it flew between him and Ponting in the slips. It was just the break Strauss needed as he finally kicked on to a fine hundred which set up England’s potentially match-winning total. It was good to see his trademark pull and cut back in working order after a difficult start to the series, better still to see the method he had evolved to deal with Warne; a much more direct forward stride and an effort to meet the ball with the bat in front of the pad in the same manner as Pietersen. It went a long way towards negating Warne’s turn out of the rough on a pitch that should have helped him greatly.
Warne in fact bowled well again, and it was never easy for England to score runs against him. But they showed they had learned over the last week or two and seemed to have little difficulty keeping him out. There was ill-luck again for Trescothick in the manner of his dismissal, dropping down a ball from McGrath firmly at his feet only to see it spin back onto his off stump. Vaughan didn’t last long this time, top edging a pull down to long leg, and England might have showed positive intent now by sending in Pietersen ahead of Bell. But the hosts chose to show faith that their diminutive number four could bat in a more positive fashion than he had showed in the first innings. After a slow beginning, they were amply rewarded.
He had an early escape when he missed a pull, the ball grazed his midriff, dropped down into his pad flap and, as he turned away, flipped out grazing his leg stump on the way down. But the youngster was able to settle in as Strauss took the lead at the other end. The left hander’s growing confidence was demonstrated by a classy pull for six off Lee, then he moved to 50 with a well judged sweep off Warne. Resuming after tea on 128-2, England were soon facing Gillespie, whose four over spell went for 23 before he was replaced by McGrath. It looked very likely that this might be Gillespie’s last spell in Test cricket.
Australian morale was now evidently at rock bottom, and even McGrath couldn’t retrieve the situation as Bell produced a couple of sublime drives through extra cover. When he tried a slower ball, Bell slammed it over long-off for six. Giving Warne the charge Gilchrist missed a stumping (almost identical to the one Jones missed earlier) to give Bell another life, but Strauss now was utterly dominant, moving into the 90s with a pulled six off Warne then going effortlessly to his hundred with a pulled four off McGrath. He richly deserved the ovation he received, but perhaps the discreet handshake from Warne was the greatest accolade of all.
Strauss fell soon afterwards, pulling McGrath to deep midwicket, but although Pietersen and Flintoff departed quickly (Pietersen fooled by a brilliant swinging yorker first ball), Bell was able to keep the board ticking over for a while before he too fell, holing out at long-off to give McGrath a deserved five-fer. A brisk 27 off 12 balls by Geraint Jones, including two huge sixes over midwicket off McGrath, helped England set what would have been a world record target for Australia to chase before Vaughan called his men in. McGrath’s five wickets had cost him 115, while Warne had bowled unchanged through a single spell of 25-3-74-0.
England were frustrated by the weather once more in their attempt to have a few hostile overs at Australia before the close; bad light came down quickly and Vaughan was forced to bowl Ashley Giles and himself. Even so, Langer was lucky to survive a strong lbw shout by the skipper.
It is hard to overestimate the tension and drama of the last day. With no advance tickets sold, people had queued at the ground overnight for a chance to be there. Long before the start of play police were turning people away from tram stops in the city centre with the news that they would have no chance of getting in. Those who got in early had the joy of seeing Langer fall early to a ball slanted across him by Hoggard, but Ponting, despite an early lbw scare, and Hayden settled in for the first of several frustrating partnerships that would hold up England throughout the day. Hayden fell for 36 a few minutes before lunch, bowled behind his legs by the crafty Flintoff, but it was after lunch that England finally looked to be taking command.
And it was bad luck rather than good bowling which started the slide. In fact it was a good ball from Harmison which swung back in to Damien Martyn, who was stuck on the crease, but umpire Bucknor should really have spotted the thick inside edge onto pad and not given him out lbw. Simon Katich again looked all at sea against Flintoff’s masterful reverse swing, he eventually pushed at a wide one and edged high to Giles at fourth slip. Adam Gilchrist entered in unusually defensive mode, something you sensed could not last, and he had made just 4 from 30 balls when Flintoff again found the edge and Bell took the catch at gully.
Australia were now 182-5, and all the smart money was on England. But Clarke was in now and moving much more freely. He began a chirpy little innings with a couple of fours cracked through the off side, and all the while there was Ponting, cruising easily along, at a slower pace than normal, but still showing lightning footwork to upset Giles’s length, forcing Vaughan to bring himself into the attack just to change things around.
Tea passed with Australia looking more solid at 216-5. Straight after tea Vaughan missed a trick by starting with Harmison, less of a threat with the old ball on this flat, dry pitch, instead of Jones. 30 vital minutes went by before he rectified this mistake, and at once Clarke edged Jones through the vacant second slip area - another trick missed. Jones got his man soon afterwards though, swinging one back to do to Clarke exactly what Flintoff had done to Katich in the first innings. Australia’s defensive intentions were shown now by the entrance of Gillespie instead of Warne, but he was soon plodding back to the pavilion lbw to Hoggard.
With Jones and Hoggard now bowling well with the old ball, Vaughan might have let things go for a couple of overs, but instead he only delayed the new ball by four overs and while Jones soon troubled Ponting with some extra bounce, all the swing now disappeared. Harmison and Flintoff were soon into the attack again, but both seemed below par, Flintoff troubled by a crater-like foothold at the Stretford End and forced to go wide on the crease.
Warne was again playing like a man trying to win a game rather than save one, and with Ponting having accelerated past his century, the two Aussies somehow forced Vaughan to set a more defensive field. With 17 overs left Jones replaced Flintoff, and with the last ball Warne swatted a leg stump full toss just wide of midwicket where Pietersen sprawled to his right and fumbled the catch. For a man who never catches anything, Pietersen certainly dives around very impressively, but more crucial overs were to pass by before England were able to make up for this drop.
In the end Warne held up England for a total of 96 minutes and 69 balls, making an incidental 34 runs along the way. It was another truly heroic performance from this legendary figure, and there can’t have been many matches in his career when he has troubled the opposition more with bat than with ball. His end came in spectacular fashion. Flintoff, recalled at the Brian Statham end, charged in and found the edge, but Strauss at second slip fumbled the catch, dropped it down onto his thigh from where it sped sideways past first slip - where keeper Jones jacknifed brilliantly full-length to his right to grasp it.
Now England moved in for the kill, an umbrella field for Lee, Ponting trying to farm the strike. But a blow struck them when Jones was forced to abandon the first ball of a new spell when struck by cramp. Instead Harmison strode up and demanded the ball. Soon Lee was reeling from a hefty blow to the forearm. There was a good lbw call against him, and a narrow escape from a run out when Ponting tried to snatch the strike at the end of one over. But somehow he hung on.
Hope was beginning to fade when Harmison ran in to deliver the last ball of the 94th over of the day. After this ball there would be just four overs left and Ponting looked to have worked a miracle. The ball was short, it lifted towards Ponting’s ribs. He jerked his bat at it, the ball brushed the glove and flew through to Jones. England ecstatic! Ponting desolate. McGrath walking out to bat with a lump in his throat the size of one of his feet. The next over was a beauty, five perfect leg-cutters just beating Lee’s floundering edge. The when Lee made better contact aiming for a single, the ball ran away for four and McGrath was left to face a full over from Harmison.
But there was little left in the big man’s tank. The succession of yorkers was stabbed down on by McGrath, and even though Flintoff again managed to keep Lee at his end, it was to no avail. Lee jabbed the last ball of the day down to fine leg, and raised his fist in triumph. The look on his face as he amd McGrath left the field showed they thought Australia had got out of jail.
So a thrilling series stands on a knife edge at 1-1 with two to play. It is hard to say who will take the psychological advantage out of this; England dominated the game from start to finish, were it not for Ponting, they would have won with ease, and had rain not taken so much time out of the game they could have set a bigger target, had even more time to bowl Australia out and even Ponting’s heroics would have meant little. On the other hand they had a chance here to go 2-1 up in the series, and they could not take it. Australia will have reassured themselves once more that they are a tough lot to beat, and will be hoping that after this middle section of English dominance, the balance of the series will once again swing back towards them.
But for that to happen they are going to have to take a good long look at themselves. At the very least they cannot afford to give England such a definite advantage in bowling as they have up to now. Warne, McGrath and Lee need support, and Gillespie and Kasprowicz cannot provide it. Sad though it is to see a great talent depart, the time has come for Gillespie to give way and, probably, for the young firebrand Shaun Tait to take over. It may also be an option to draft in all-rounder Shane Watson, to give them a genuine five man attack. The fragility of their batting at the moment makes this a risky option however.
But Australia will have to look to new blood soon. A quick look at the side which played here shows that only four of them, perhaps, have a chance of being here again in four years’ time. And of those four Brett Lee will then be 32, which is a ripe age for a bowler who relies mainly on fierce pace; Ponting will be 34 and if he steps down as captain by then may also be discarded as a batsman, Clarke has a worrying long-term back problem and Katich, though a good player, seems awfully fallible to good swing bowling. At least 7 new players, possibly more, will have to be drafted in over the next four years, and that is one hell of a turnover. Australia could start now, and a couple of fresh minds, and fresh pairs of legs, could give them the impetus to go on and seal this series.
As for England, they will need to put this disappointment quickly behind them, remind themselves that they have played excellent cricket in the last two games and that the momentum in the series is now with them. Moreover, every single member of the eleven has now made a telling contribution at some point in the series, which is more than can be said for their opponents. And, as I mentioned in my preview before the series began: “A young side is always getting better; an old side is day by day feeling more and more the season’s daily round and task.” The words of Sir Neville Cardus still ring true.
England 444 (Vaughan 166, Trescothick 63, Bell 59, Warne 4-99, Lee 4-100) & 280-6 (Strauss 106, Bell 65, McGrath 5-115)
Australia 302 (Warne 90, Jones 6-53) & 371-9 (Ponting 156, Flintoff 4-71)
Man of the Match