Cricket: Feast of pulled drives and pulled faces

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ENGLAND arrived in Queensland in a decidedly happier state of mind. It was not only the 21st birthday party for Ben Hollioake on the final evening in Adelaide which provoked this, it was also the match against South Australia which ended a few hours before.

At last, England had proved a point. After three days of being behind the eight ball, a position which we were partly responsible for ourselves, we managed to work our way out for a draw. The unbeaten fifth-wicket stand of 377 which Graham Thorpe and I shared was the highest by any touring side in a first-class match in Australia.

That was gratifying, as was acquiring a century and some fluent form, but the result was significant for the team - the morale of the whole squad, players and management, received a boost. We have not played well throughout a match on the tour yet, but we have not lost either. When we put together a complete performance who knows what we can achieve?

When Graham and I began the last day in Adelaide we were effectively 11 for 4. The first target was to bat to the second new ball, the next was to see that off. South Australia's bowlers provided a stern test early on and gave nothing away lightly.

So far on this tour I have usually gone in at No 6, when England have lost wickets cheaply, which has been difficult. The feedback I have had suggests that people seem to want me to play shots. I want to do that as well but that has to be balanced with the team's needs, with the importance of staying in.

In the first innings at Adelaide I went in at 20 for 4, in the second at 80 for 4. The game had to be saved and there was no point in trying to play shots all round the Oval; we had to get stuck in and chip away at it. We got through to lunch and in the afternoon were able to cut loose.

It was a pleasure to be at the other end to Graham when he practised his sweep slog to good effect against their young leg-spinner. Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill might be different kettles of fish but this method of attack should not be dismissed. I played with much greater freedom and hit a couple straight back. Out in the middle we were not aware of any records looming, but then Ben Hollioake came out with a fresh pair of batting gloves and told us we were 10 short of the partnership between Wilfred Rhodes and C A G Russell (known, naturally, as Jack) in 1921. We made sure we accumulated them safely.

We didn't actually say much to each other during the day. We knew what was required in the morning, we knew instinctively we could attack in the afternoon. There was a touch of gamesmanship. Both Jason Gillespie and his bowling partner Mark Harrity indulged in some fun and games as they ran up to deliver, pulling faces or altering their action. I didn't think too much about this, except that it meant we were in the ascendant and they knew it.

Of course, none of this alters the fact that the side got into trouble in the first place. True, the pitch was moist early on, having been watered, which they do to make sure it holds together for the whole match. It was also only five weeks since the end of the Australian Rules football season and that must have made it difficult to prepare a perfect surface. The outfield was still perfect but the square was a trifle careworn and no wonder; I can guess what Mick Hunt might say if football was played on his square at Lord's. But the point remains that we have to peform well in our first innings to have a chance in the Ashes.

The pitch got flatter and became low and slow (though it may be useful to remember by the time of the Third Test that the abrasive surface seems to offer the chance of reverse swing after 40 overs or so). Greg Blewett played a marvellous innings for them. He is obviously a top player yet he is third in line for their Test side now. His was an important wicket to get - a piece of Ramprakash phantom off-spin bowling him. I am actually working on my bowling - it may yet have a part to play.

We are on the verge of the serious business now, though we still have another 1,200 miles to travel to Brisbane from here on Tuesday before the First Test on Friday. Neither the side nor its balance are yet finalised but with Alec Stewart as all-rounder, it means we can consider playing five bowlers. Seven batsmen is, I suppose, another possibility, and at least everybody has had a chance to get some form.

Everybody, that is, except Ben the birthday boy. He has been troubled by niggling injuries since he got here (other players are suffering, too) and has hardly played. He will get his chance on a tour like this. He will remember his party. There was, of course, a cake which Wayne Morton, the physiotherapist, insisted he should smell. Ben leant closer and found his face being pushed firmly into the icing.

Meanwhile, there is still other cricket to plan for. Twenty players have been named for the Triangular one-day series here in the New Year. That will be whittled down to 14. I am not among them. Although in my last one-day international innings I made 60 in as many balls, this was a disappointment more than a surprise.

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