Cricket: Familiar theme as England roll over

England 469 for 6 dec and 199 for 3 dec Australia XI 293 for 4 dec and 376 for 1 Australia XI won by nine wickets
Click to follow
The Independent Online
BILLED AS the sixth Test, it finished as most of the others have done, in a crushing loss for England. Michael Atherton may have contrived a finish by setting Australia 376 in 78 overs, but to win with more than 22 overs to spare, and with only one wicket down, was a humiliation that could not have hit England's teetering morale at a worse moment.

Once again, it was Greg Blewett, this time with an unbeaten 213 to go with his undefeated 169 in the first innings, who was the destroyer in chief, though he was well supported by Corey Richards, who followed his first-ball duck on Monday with an unbeaten 138.

Only two players have matched Blewett's feat of scoring an undefeated double and single centuries above 150 in the same match. Indeed, one of them, Zaheer Abbas, did it twice.

"As it turned out it, was a generous declaration," said the England manager, Graham Gooch, who was also heavily critical of the team's performance in the field on the fourth day. "It is not so much the loss as the manner of the loss, and we were totally abject today. I'm not in it for this kind of performance and I like to see England be competitive."

Gooch has always taken England's defeats hard, and while he did not go as far as saying that England had played without pride, his comments did not fall far short.

"You can do as much talking as you like," he said, "but it is the players who must show the pride. They are the ones who have to examine themselves closely."

Artificial finish or not, it was certainly not the morale-booster England were seeking four days before an important Test match. Although an England win was always third favourite, after defeat and a draw, losing badly to Australian teams is becoming such an ingrained habit that England's response to them has begun to emulate that of Pavlov's Dog: every time the screws are tightened, England obligingly capitulate.

Mind you, though most of it was left unused on the final day, this was a terrifically strong Australian XI batting line-up and, given the same match circumstances, many touring sides would have lost to this team.

Yet, if it did not make for pretty viewing, unless of course you are a fan of seeing bat totally dominate ball, there were circumstances that, if not exactly mitigating, need to be taken into consideration.

For one thing, the pitch with its high clay content (71 per cent as opposed to the 30 per cent found in the loams used in England) had barely worn in four days. To confirm the batsman-friendly nature of the surface, Stuart Law felt it was the flattest he had ever encountered at the Bellerive Oval. If ever there were conditions in which persistence would not be enough and the services of classy wrist spinner a must, these were they.

The figures tend to support this, and over the course of the match 1,337 runs were scored for just 14 wickets in 300.4 overs. It means that each wicket averaged just over 95 runs, which were scored at rate of 4.5 per over. Little wonder that when bat was actually put to ball with any degree of urgency - as it was in the last innings - rates in excess of six runs per over were achieved.

Blewett, who appears to be in the form of his life, was also a major factor. Six scores of over a hundred were made in this match, of which Blewett's double was the pick of the crop. He has now scored 1,175 first- class runs this season and joins an elite set comprising David Hookes and Bobby Simpson of those who have reached a thousand runs before Christmas.

This was his third hundred plus score in a row against England on tour, and only his second ever double, the other coming against South Africa in Johannesburg.

In fact, only Alex Tudor escaped ignominy as Blewett struck the ball cleanly off front foot and back, straight and square, off-side and on. That he was able to do so freely was evidence that England simply lacked the discipline to bowl one side of the wicket, a basic starting point, against good players on flat pitches. For a side whose best method of taking wickets was to restrict the scoring, the lack of a single maiden over was a sign that things had not gone to plan. The lone wicket-taker, when he induced Matthew Elliott to bottom-edge a pull onto his stumps, Tudor was also the only bowler to get Blewett to play and miss.

Later Angus Fraser, now 33, managed to beat Richards twice in two balls, a feat that will do little to alter the impression that the Middlesex man, who went for nearly seven an over, may well have bowled his final spell for England. Afterwards, as the team waited for the coach to the airport, Fraser, a great servant for England, sat alone with his thoughts.

He was not the only one to "fetch", as cricketing vernacular would have it, and both Peter Such and Dominic Cork, both in the frame for the Melbourne Test, had figures best forgotten. Mind you, even they were trumped by Ben Hollioake, who went at nine runs an over. These are figures that a scratch side put together after an epidemic would find unacceptable, let alone England's finest.

In some ways this match, particularly the three injuries suffered by the Australian side, has done England no favours. While it may be true that the batsmen may have spent time at the crease, the quality of that time, almost exclusively against a part-time attack, must be of limited use.

But if it has left England none the wiser about who to play at the MCG on Saturday, Gooch was adamant that it was attitude that England most needed to address. "I hope we'd raise our game for the Test match," he said before flying to Melbourne. "Anyway, it's the way we've been playing that needs to be looked at, not the configuration of the team."


Final day of four; England won toss

ENGLAND - First Innings 469 for 6 dec (M A Atherton 210no, G A Hick 125, M R Ramprakash 65).

AUSTRALIA XI - First Innings 293 for 4 dec (G S Blewett 169 no, M T G Elliott 81).

ENGLAND - Second Innings

(Overnight 166 for 2)

M A Butcher not out 103

D G Cork run out 10

W K Hegg not out 5

Extras (nb1) 1

Total (for 3 dec, 46.5 overs) 199

Fall: 1-118, 2-164, 3-190.

Did not bat: *M A Atherton, M R Ramprakash, G A Hick, A J Tudor, A R C Fraser, P M Such.

Bowling: Julian 11-2-43-0; Law 8-1-36-0; Lehmann 7.5-1-48-1; Bevan 15- 1-57-0; Elliott 5-0-15-1.

AUSTRALIA XI - Second Innings

G S Blewett not out 213

M T G Elliott b Tudor 8

C J Richards not out 138

Extras (b5, lb4, w3, nb5) 17

Total (for 1, 55.2 overs) 376

Fall: 1-31.

Did not bat: *D S Lehmann, S G Law, M G Bevan, A C Gilchrist, P R Reiffel, B P Julian, M S Kasprowicz, G R Robertson.

Bowling: Tudor 9-0-49-1; Fraser 11-0-72-0; Such 11-0-86-0; Cork 12.2- 0-76-0; Hick 3-0-22-0; Hollioake 5-0-45-0; Ramprakash 4-0-17-0.

Umpires: S G Davies and P Parker.