After two brilliant days at the start, it was sad to see England stutter back into bad habits and mediocrity on Saturday and the first part of Sunday. The bowlers who had got it all right on Thursday could hardly have got it more wrong for those four sessions until Robert Croft put the show back on the road with his off-breaks.
The discipline which had been so obvious with Darren Gough and Andy Caddick's bowling and Nasser Hussain and Graham Thorpe's batting, to say nothing of Mike Atherton's captaincy, vanished in this middle period as quickly as it had come.
The opening bowlers wasted the new ball by bowling wide, Atherton did not put enough pressure on Mark Taylor and Greg Blewett and it all became rather rudderless, especially for the first hour on the fourth morning, when 59 runs came off 12 overs with the second new ball. It was the new ball which was meant to be England's pathway to victory, too.
Atherton gave it to Caddick and Devon Malcolm, and not to Gough, who was always the most likely of the fast bowlers. Strangely, Atherton, even allowing for his advantage, did not go fully on to the attack with his field placings. It was not until Croft took his third wicket, removing Blewett after lunch, that Malcolm heard the sound of the bugle for the first time in the match.
Atherton had been on top as wickets fell in the first innings, as he was again after lunch yesterday, when the Australian batsmen were once more on the run. But, with the batsmen on top, he finds it harder to control things. His imagination seems to become more limited and he is not good at changing things round and trying to upset the batsmen by, say, suddenly changing a fielding position to raise a query in their mind. False propaganda can be important.
In view of all the circumstances, Taylor's 129 was a truly heroic innings. He has been in the batting horrors for a long time and the pressure was mounting from all around him, and especially from within his own dressing room. It takes guts to go in and bat as he did. He never flinched, he led from the front and he did not let his personal situation get in the way of his side's needs.
The result of all this is that we are now going to have a wonderful series. Taylor and Blewett have ensured that Australia will regroup after a damaging match. Their recent domination may have ended, and it remains to be seen if England can go on and regain the Ashes. They could not have made a more splendid start.Reuse content