Cricket: England batsmen take the blame

Second Test: England 112 & 191 Australia 240 & 64-3 Australia win by 7 wkts: Australia take advantage of tourists' inferiority complex to claim victory and go one up in Ashes series
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The Independent Online
THE DEFEAT that England have diced with ever since their arrival in Australia finally materialised and they leave Perth chasing a familiar one-nil deficit. If losing to Australia by seven wickets inside three days is a humiliation most would choose to avoid, it could have been much worse and the freak storm that saved them in Brisbane has at least kept this Ashes series from turning to dust by the third Test.

As England's captain Alec Stewart candidly admitted, it is a position England have been in before. But if coming back against South Africa was a remarkable effort last summer, doing the same to Australia at home, will depend on the amount of psychological damage the defeat has inflicted on the batsmen.

Indeed, with only Graeme Hick, playing in place of the injured Graham Thorpe, able to dominate, the inferiority complex now taking hold will become increasingly difficult to shift. Now that the series is heading back east, Australia's confidence will move into overdrive.

"I always felt that Brisbane and Perth were the venues that might suit England's bowlers best, so I'm delighted to be one-nil up," Mark Taylor said. "As for any psychological advantage, that's been built up over 10 years of cricket."

In fact, the WACA pitch did suit England's bowlers who were every bit as competitive on the bouncy speedway as their opponents. Alex Tudor impressed with his pace and accuracy and taking 4 for 89 against Australia represents a fine debut.

Where the main differences lie, however, is in batting technique and catching, two areas Australia have long excelled at. There is nothing more disheartening for a bowling side to create chances and fluff them. Ignoring the crucial misses in Brisbane, England spilled eight chances, a sloppy display in stark contrast to Australia's, where 15 were caught and only one dropped.

The batting was even worse. Judging by the way many batsmen were reticent about getting into line, the pre-match propaganda about the pitch clearly worked. When players did cover their off-stump they invariably did so with half a bat, playing at deliveries most of the Aussies chose to leave alone.

"We were guilty of playing at too many balls outside off-stump," agreed Stewart. "They let balls go that pass over the stumps. Because of the type of pitches we play on back home, we don't leave the ball as well as they do."

Surely one of the reasons England did not send their strongest one-day side to Bangladesh was so the Test players involved could play against Western Australia and get a taster of the unique WACA pitch. If they did, it turned pretty sour.

As it turned out the toss was an important factor, but Taylor's decision to bowl first - something Stewart admitted he would not have done - was in the face of advice from the three Western Australians involved with the side.

Until recently the pitch at the WACA has tended to crack up, making batting last a virtually impossible task. But this one has been relaid and as there was no evidence of cracks, Taylor did not feel that batting last represented as much a problem as perhaps batting first when the grass was fresh.

Yet if some sideways movement made things difficult on the first day there was nothing untoward on days two and three. By then England needed a miracle and although Hick threatened with a savage 68, Australia, despite losing three wickets chasing the 64 runs needed to win, were always in charge.

Hick, who is staying with the party and will be considered for the next Test, added 26 runs to his overnight score before he became the first of Jason Gillespie's five victims. On Sunday, Hick had humiliated Gillespie, who conceded 69 runs from nine overs. But if there were plenty of bowlers who would have blanched at having the ball put in their hands so soon, Gillespie relished the challenge.

The approach brought reward too and once Hick had gone, edging the fast bowler to third slip, he blew away England's tail with four wickets in six balls. For the second time in two Tests Mark Ramprakash was left unbeaten, this time on 47.

It isn't often a Test match is over before tea on the third day but the rift between the batting and the bowling of both sides on this fast, bouncy Perth pitch, helped to accelerate the match.

Yet if losing to Australia has become something of a habit over the last decade, the timing of this particular defeat is appropriate. Over the next two days, the First Class Forum (the 18 counties plus MCC) is meeting to decide the format the English county game will take in the next millennium.

If ever there was a wake-up call for change, England's poor showing in this match was it and once again their technique and temperament were shown to be suspect under pressure.

To say that county cricket is flawed, is like "stating the bleedin' obvious," and doubters need look no further than the case of John Crawley, whose batting in this match illustrates why domestic cricket is a poor breeding ground for Test cricketers.

Last season, Crawley was Lancashire's best batsmen, scoring 1,395 first- class runs at an average of 69.75. Against Australia's pace men in Perth, he was made to look a novice as they probed his weakness outside off-stump. It is quite obvious that the bowlers he faces day in and day out at home are not good enough to consistently expose it and he has been allowed to flourish without having to eradicate this glaring flaw.

He is not the only one who would benefit from more rigorous domestic competition. But if a two-divisional Championship is now more likely than it was a year ago, it will still not go far enough and what is needed is a format that concentrates the cream of the talent in five or six teams and allows it to rise to the top. Until that happens, Australia will remain an occasional conquest.

SCOREBOARD

Third day; Australia won toss

ENGLAND - First Innings 112 (D W Fleming 5-46)

AUSTRALIA - First Innings 240 (A J Tudor 4-89)

ENGLAND - Second Innings

M A Butcher c Ponting b Fleming 1

13 min, 15 balls

M A Atherton c Taylor b Fleming 35

81 min, 56 balls, 6 fours

N Hussain lbw b Fleming 1

15 min, 14 balls

*A J Stewart c Taylor b Fleming 0

8 min, 5 balls

M R Ramprakash not out 47

270 min, 184 balls, 5 fours

J P Crawley c Langer b Miller 15

64 min, 45 balls

G A Hick c Ponting b Gillespie 68

99 min, 73 balls, 8 fours, 2 sixes

D G Cork lbw b Gillespie 16

48 min, 31 balls, 1 four

A J Tudor c Healy b Gillespie 0

2 min, 2 balls

D Gough lbw b Gillespie 0

2 min, 1 ball

A D Mullally b Gillespie 0

7 min, 4 balls

Extras (nb8) 8

Total (309 min, 70.2 overs) 191

Fall: 1-5 (Butcher) 2-11 (Hussain) 3-15 (Stewart) 4-40 (Atherton) 5-67 (Crawley) 6-158 (Hick) 7-189 (Cork) 8-189 (Tudor) 9-189 (Gough) 10-191 (Mullally).

Bowling: McGrath 26-10-47-0 (nb1) (7-2-13-0, 10-4-17-0, 5-2-13-0, 4-2- 4-0); Fleming 19-7-45-4 (nb1), (11-5-16-4, 8-2-29-0); Gillespie 15.2-2- 88-5 (nb6) (4-0-21-0, 2-0-16-0, 3-1-32-0, 6.2-1-19-5); Miller 10-4-11- 1 (7-2-10-1 3-2-1-0).

Progress: Second day: tea: 19-3 (M A Atherton 16, M R Ramprakash 0) 13 overs. 50: 90 min, 21 overs. 100: 179 min, 42.2 overs. Close 126-5 (Ramprakash 26, G A Hick 42) 47 overs. Third day: 150: 231 min, 55.1 overs.

Innings closed: 12.20pm - early lunch taken.

Hick's 50: 74 mins, 54 balls, 5 fours, 2 sixes.

AUSTRALIA - Second Innings

M J Slater c and b Gough 17

40 min, 38 balls, 2 fours

*M A Taylor c Hick b Mullally 3

21 min, 15 balls

J L Langer c Atherton b Tudor 7

41 min, 21 balls

M E Waugh not out 17

59 min, 37 balls, 2 fours

S R Waugh not out 15

34 min, 29 balls, 2 fours

Extras (lb3, nb2) 5

Total (for 3, 100 min, 23 overs) 64

Fall: 1-16 (Taylor) 2-24 (Slater) 3-36 (Langer).

Bowling: Gough 9-5-18-1 (one spell); Mullally 9-0-24-1 (6-0-18-1, 3-0- 6-0); Tudor 5-0-19-1 (nb2) (one spell).

Progress: Third day: 50: 77 min, 17.3 overs.

Result: Australia win by 7 wickets.

Umpires: D J Harper and S Venkataraghavan.

Man of the match: D W Fleming.

Compiled by Jo King

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