Match drawn So it is goodbye to the Ashes for another two-and-a-half years, after the usual story of Shane Warne taking more wickets than any other spinner in the match. However, this can be a perverse old game at times, and while Warne actually achievedthis feat by dismissing just one England batsman, he ultimately denied England victory by the breadth of his bat rather than the width of his leg break.
It is an enduring quality of Test cricket that some of its most enthralling matches can end in a draw, and so it was here, but not before Warne (with Australia's fourth highest individual score in the game) and Tim May had survived the final 19 overs with England requiring only three more wickets to win.
The fact that they were able to block it out against a combination of Philip Tufnell, Graeme Hick and Graham Gooch, rather than England's quicker bowlers, was down to the game being concluded at a time when the SCG floodlights would have been on for an hour an a half in a day-night match.
However, with England for once lit up by something a touch more powerful than a 40 watt bulb, Michael Atherton could not risk employing Angus Fraser, Devon Malcolm or Darren Gough for fear that the umpires would take the players off the field. And when the umpires eventually did take them off, they promptly, in one of Test cricket's more bizarre endings, ordered them all back on again.
When Warne survived the final ball of the allotted minimum of 121 overs (which was actually a dropped catch at mid-off by Malcolm off Gooch) everyone shook hands and headed for the pavilion. However, Atherton opined that England had bowled their overs within the allotted playing time, and after thumbing through their notebooks, the umpires agreed that a couple of minutes still remained.
There then followed the kind of confused chaos that is par for the course in England matches on this ground (it was here, in the World Cup, that two South African batsmen were invited back to the middle to score 21 runs off one delivery) and after the groundsman had been told to remove his tractor, Tufnell delivered one more over to May. After four balls, Atherton considered that the chances of May being stumped off a wide, and Tufnell then completing a hat-trick, were somewhat improbable, and he himself took off the bails to concede the draw.
This was an oddball Test right from the start, as it either involved bowlers looking as though they would next take a wicket sometime in April, or batsmen being dismissed so quickly that it was a surprise that no one actually rushed out without a pair ofpads on.
Australia's second innings involved an opening partnership of 208 between Mark Taylor and Michael Slater, but they otherwise lost 17 wickets for 200 in the match, and 7 for 84 in the second innings before Warne and May held out for the final one hour and16 minutes.
It is one of the perversities of Test cricket that you can normally expect a final-day crowd to arrive in the same taxi, but yesterday there were close on 26,000 people inside the SCG (not far short of the Lord's capacity) to witness Australia's attempt
to make more runs to win a Test than any other team in 118 years of Test cricket.
From 139 for 0 overnight, Taylor and Slater made only 67 more runs from 31 overs by lunch, largely because England's only tactic from Tufnell was to bowl negatively into the rough in the hope that Slater's low boredom threshold would get him out, and also because the ball failed to swing, despite an oppressively humid atmosphere.
It would have had more chance to swing had England's bowlers not consistently dug it in short of a length, and while Atherton complained that it was one of those rogue balls that would not have swung inside a Turkish bath, there was the distinct feeling that England were taking no chances of getting stuffed by a record fourth-innings total.
The Tufnell plan for Slater would have worked had John Crawley not dropped a straightforward catch at mid-off when he had made 74, but Slater had secured his fifth Test century by lunch, and England's only other chance was an appeal for a run out againstTaylor. The Australian umpire, Darrell Hair, declined to call for a TV adjudication, despite the replay indicating that it was desperately close.
However, the point at which the day really began its final twist involved the lunchtime arrival of a bout of rain that seemed guaranteed to kill off the match. By the time it stopped, seven overs had been lost despite the provision of the extra hour, andTaylor later confirmed that at this point he settled for the draw.
Slater's curious response was to pull Fraser to deep square leg, where Tufnell took a extremely good running catch, and Taylor's limited ambitions were further undermined both by the fact that the rain had brought the sap rising from the pitch, and the advent of the second new ball.
Taylor lost his off stump playing no shot to Malcolm, and David Boon was so adroitly taken at second slip by Hick that we thought it might even prompt a reconciliation between him and the captain. Even though it is not always easy to tell when Hick has verbally broken off a relationship, he had not spoken to Atherton since the 98 not out declaration, and Atherton had declined to offer any other explanation that evening other than to tell one reporter: "I don't really give a stuff what you write."
This was a bit odd coming from a captain who rarely allows a press conference to go by without some kind of indication that he actually gives something much more than a stuff, but yesterday he was in as perky a mood as he has been for some time. "It was a difficult decision," he said, "and one of those you hate. But I wanted maximum time to bowl them out, and I thought we had wasted our own time in the previous couple of overs."
Where England got back that time, and a bit more, yesterday, was when Angus Fraser tore out Australia's middle order with a spell of 4 for 4 in 13 balls. With the ball moving off the juiced-up pitch, this was just like the Fraser who took 8 for 75 in Barbados last winter, yet who was left out of the original squad this time despite getting Atherton's vote. No wonder Atherton, despite his disappointment, was smiling last night. He stopped short of saying ". . . but Illy didn't want him", but not by much.
England A tour, page 38
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