Cricket: Australia set to deliver a crushing blow

Australia 235 & 395-8 dec England 161 & 130-5

It is not certain whether Michael Atherton was among those marvelling at the first clear pictures of the martian landscape. If he was, he would have noticed a striking similarity to the pitch here, which is proving just as dusty and inhospitable as England, five wickets down in their second innings, face almost certain defeat and the potentially catastrophic loss of their 1-0 lead in this series.

Only John Crawley, the recipient of some gift wrapped deliveries from Michael Bevan, has so far been able to defy the Australians' route march across this Test match. His unbeaten fifty may offer a glimmer of hope to optimists, but it is unlikely to fool those who know that the highest winning score here in the fourth innings is 145 for 7, made by South Africa in 1955.

However, poorly though England have batted, particularly in their first innings, it was inevitable that Australia, after such a lacklustre start, would eventually sort themselves out and stage a fightback. They are a functional side who, for all their combative qualities, still rely heavily on a core of star players to make the "hard yard" for them, a characteristic both Steve Waugh and Shane Warne have exhibited with finesse over the past four days.

Waugh has simply been supreme. He may have had the odd slice of luck, but his two centuries, the first time they have been achieved since Arthur Morris and Denis Compton achieved them in the Adelaide Test of 1947, were an object lesson in what ruthless measures it takes to set up winning positions in Test matches. Let us hope the Crawleys, Thorpes and Butchers were watching Waugh as closely as he was watching the ball.

Warne, too, has awoken, and sensing his opportunity like a pickpocket, has simply been a cagier version of the one we saw here four years ago. The ball may not fizz and splutter quite as much, but he still worked enough venom into it, especially out of the rough for Ian Healy to call for a helmet.

Mark Taylor, widely lambasted for his decision to bat first, can now sit back and look sage. On a pitch which started as patriotically verdant as William Blake's "green and pleasant land," the Australian captain put his faith in a fair weather forecast of drying wind and sun; conditions he knew would eventually suit his trump card Warne more than having first use on a pitch on which only Paul Reiffel would feel comfortable bowling the right length.

For all his courteous aplomb, Taylor never been afraid to be his own man. Indeed the idiosyncracy surfaced again yesterday, and he curiously waited until 20 minutes after lunch before declaring Australia's second innings some 468 runs ahead. Even guarding against the potential profligacy of Michael Bevan's bowling, it was unnecessary overkill and he must have been working on the theory that England's resistance would be significantly lowered on a full stomach.

In fact, England, although they have bowled well, have lacked the fuel and tools for their skirmish here against the Aussie bowlers, having once again been found wanting when aggression, pressure and a revitalised leg- spinner apply the screws.

Warne, with 251 wickets to his name, is now the greatest wicket-taking leg-spinner of all time. Naturally, he has not got there by being dominated very often, although England's meekness against him and the other Aussie bowlers in the first innings cost them important psychological ground. When England came to bat a second time, Australia knew exactly what each batsman's defensive tactics would be and planned accordingly.

England's plans, as ever in dire situations, were not so obvious and unless Atherton was prepared to match his 10-hour vigil in Johannesburg, they were always going to struggle. In the event, Atherton, having hooked a mighty six off Jason Gillespie, lasted 70 minutes, the gangly bowler enacting his revenge by skidding a straight ball into the England captain's pads.

By then Warne, having spat out his chewing gum to concentrate every bodily function into extracting maximum turn, had bowled two overs. Faced with a new batsman, Alec Stewart, never at his best starting against spin, Warne decided to go into overdrive with a superb bit of trickery.

Having kicked away two leg-breaks that pitched in the rough, Stewart was drawn into playing at the third, which perfectly pitched on leg-stump, hit middle and leg, turning just enough to make its way between pad and a bat that was hung away from his body like a pendulum, as he misread the amount of turn.

If it was a brief and disappointing innings for Stewart, he can at least console himself with the knowledge that his eight catches in the match set an Ashes record for England keepers.

Unfortunately, Nasser Hussain had no such comfort and he fell to a fast nip-backer from Gillespie, in the first over after tea. It was a useful ball from the South Australian pace bowler, who working up a fair head of steam, forced Mark Butcher to sky his pull into the capable hands of Glenn McGrath. His marvellous running catch from long leg was made just inches above the turf.

A watchful stand between Thorpe and Crawley then ensued before Thorpe, lured into a wild cut by a wide flipper gave Warne his second wicket of the day. At that point England were 84 for 5 and in danger of Australia claiming the extra half hour to try and finish them off.

But although a series of handsome strokes by Crawley and some stolid defence by Mark Ealham put paid to that particular possibility, few will really believe with a fair forecast, that they are doing anything except delaying the inevitability of an Australian victory sometime later today.

Old Trafford scoreboard

Australia won toss

AUSTRALIA - First innings 235 (S R Waugh 108; D W Headley 4-72).

ENGLAND - First innings 161 (M A Butcher 51; S K Warne 6-48).

AUSTRALIA - Second innings

M T G Elliott c Butcher b Headley 11

(58 min, 40 balls)

*M A Taylor c Butcher b Headley 1

(5 min, 3 balls)

G S Blewett c Hussain b Croft 19

(41 min, 35 balls, 1 four)

M E Waugh b Ealham 55

(121 min, 81 balls, 7 fours, 1 six)

S R Waugh c Stewart b Headley 116

(382 min, 271 balls, 10 fours)

M G Bevan c Atherton b Headley 0

(22 min, 16 balls)

I A Healy c Butcher b Croft 47

(103 min, 78 balls, 6 fours)

S K Warne c Stewart b Caddick 53

(101 min, 77 balls, 5 fours, 1 six)

P R Reiffel not out 45

(105 min, 87 balls, 6 fours)

J N Gillespie not out 28

(63 min, 55 balls, 3 fours)

Extras (b1, lb13, nb6) 20

Total (for 8 dec, 505 min, 122 overs) 395

Fall: 1-5 (Taylor), 2-33 (Blewett), 3-39 (Elliott), 4-131 (M E Waugh), 5-132 (Bevan), 6-210 (Healy), 7-298 (Warne), 8-333 (S R Waugh).

Did not bat: G D McGrath.

Bowling: Gough 20-3-62-0 (nb2) (4-0-18-0, 3-1-13-0, 5-0-13-0, 4-1-6-0, 4-1-12-0); Headley 29-4-104-4 (nb4) (8-1-21-2, 2-0-7-0, 6-2-10-1, 2-0- 7-0, 3-0-19-0, 2-0-21-0, 6-1-19-1); Croft 39-12-105-2 (4-0-16-1, 6-2-18- 0, 3-2-7-0, 6-2-16-1, 3-3-0-0, 17-3-48-0); Ealham 13-3-41-1 (2-0-8-0, 6-3-15-1, 3-0-9-0, 2-0-9-0); Caddick 21-0-69-1 (nb4) (8-0-27-0, 5-0-15- 0, 5-0-13-1, 3-0-14-0).

Progress: Third day: 50: 66 min, 15 overs. Lunch: 78-3 (M E Waugh 20, S R Waugh 23) 22 overs. 100: 130 min, 30.5 overs. 150: 212 min, 48.3 overs. Tea: 154-5 (S R Waugh 56, Healy 7) 50 overs. 200: 286 min, 65.4 overs. 250: 347 min, 80.3 overs. Close: 262-6 (S R Waugh 82, Warne 33) 85 overs. Fourth day: New ball taken immediately. 300: 401 min, 94.3 overs. 350: 471 min, 112.2 overs. Lunch: 367-8 (Reiffel 27, Gillespie 18) 116 overs. Declaration: 2.01pm.

M E Waugh 50: 106 min, 71 balls, 7 fours, 1 six.

S R Waugh 50: 150 min, 110 balls, 5 fours. 100: 352 min, 255 balls, 8 fours.

Warne 50: 79 min, 66 balls, 5 fours, 1 six.

ENGLAND - Second Innings

M A Butcher c McGrath b Gillespie 28

(101 min, 78 balls, 1 four)

*M A Atherton lbw b Gillespie 21

(71 min, 38 balls, 1 four, 1 six)

A J Stewart b Warne 1

(5 min, 5 balls)

N Hussain lbw b Gillespie 1

(15 min, 14 balls)

G P Thorpe c Healy b Warne 7

(51 mins, 29 balls)

J P Crawley not out 53

(106 min, 95 balls)

M A Ealham not out 5

(62 min, 48 balls)

Extras (b11, lb1, w1, nb1) 14

Total (for 5, 208 mins, 51 overs) 130

Fall: 1-44 (Atherton), 2-45 (Stewart), 3-50 (Hussain), 4-55 (Butcher), 5-84 (Thorpe).

To bat: R D B Croft, D Gough, A R Caddick, D W Headley.

Bowling: McGrath 10-2-24-0 (7-2-14-0, 3-0-10-0); Gillespie 12-4-31-3 (4-2-10-0, 8-2-21-3); Reiffel 2-0-8-0; Warne 19-7-21-2; Bevan 8-2-34-0 (One spell each).

Progress: Tea: 49-2 (Butcher 25, Hussain 1) 20 overs. 50: 89 min, 20.1 overs. 100: 160 mins, 37.3 overs.

Crawley 50: 101 min, 94 balls, 7 fours.

Umpires: G Sharp (Eng) and S Venkataraghavan (India).

TV Replay Umpire: J H Hampshire

Match Referee: R S Madugalle.

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