Cricket: Ashes now truly ignited

Henry Blofeld at Edgbaston says the portents are good for an exciting summer
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The Independent Online
It was always going to be harder for England to bowl out Australia in their second innings. This time there was no moisture in the pitch, in spite of the clouds, the ball did not swing nearly as much as it had done on the first morning and the bounce was nothing like as uneven as England would have hoped.

They did not bowl as well as they had in the first innings and they ran up against an Australian side obviously stung by the events of the first two days and who had, as a result, acquired a steely determination.

No praise can be too high for Mark Taylor's century, which was a personal triumph of a very high order. He never once flinched from his duty as Australia's captain and No 1 opening batsman. He did not take - and I would be surprised if he ever considered - the easy way out and drop himself down the order. Instead, he went out and led from the front.

He is a most able batsman who was a long way from his best form but, doughty fighter that he is, he has never played an innings of greater character. Of course, his long experience was a big help, too.

Credit is due also to Matthew Elliott for his elegant contribution to a most important and impressive opening stand of 133. After he had badly misjudged a ball which went on with Robert Croft's arm, Greg Blewett, who has an uncomfortable knee injury which was clearly troubling him, played another innings of great character as he helped his captain steer Australia towards relative safety.

The importance of Taylor's innings to Australia cannot be overstated. He has become the rock around which they can now rebuild in this match. They can now emerge with credit and their spirit intact even if they do lose - still the most likely result. More importantly, he has given them a base around which to regroup for the rest of the series.

If Taylor had failed in this innings, he would probably have been dropped for the Second Test on Thursday week at Lord's. All the confidence, not to say arrogance, which the tourists brought with them would have disappeared with a huge defeat here and, most damagingly, would have gone over to the England dressing-room.

Neither will the Australians' morale been helped by their spate of injury problems. Butnothing rocks a touring side more than the failure of the captain to hold his place in the Test line-up, and if this had happened to Taylor, the Australians might even have crumbled and lost the Ashes by a huge margin. Surely only the most one-eyed England supporters would have wanted to see that sort of no-contest.

But Taylor's innings yesterday will have reinvigorated the whole Australian party. By his efforts he has ensured that we are going to be in for a close and exciting scrap over the next three months.

We have just seen three wonderful days of Test cricket and I believe we are going to see much more of the same in the five Tests which are to come.

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