Cricket / Fourth Test: Border combines brilliance and belligerence: More agony for England at Headingley as Gooch finds that life does not begin at 40 in the face of ageless Australian class

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The Independent Online
Australia 613-4 v England

HEADINGLEY'S electronic scoreboard gave up the ghost earlier this month (lack of spare parts, apparently) and its miniature replacement is now in imminent danger of blowing several fuses. Sadly, there is no corresponding shortage of spare parts in the England bowling department, and for the second consecutive Ashes Test match here, Australia's batsmen have very nearly burst their braces on a diet of English pies.

There is good reason to suspect that chicken legs and salmon mousses have also played a significant part in Australia's latest bout of gluttony, this being the sort of fare on offer in the hospitality suites to which Test cricket is now geared. The large complex next to the old pavilion has sprouted a third tier since last year, and in the interests of ensuring that the sponsors' guests will still be clinking their glasses on the fourth and fifth days, rather than offering England their best chance of winning the game, the old Headingley Test pitch is now as defunct as the scoreboard.

The fact that variety is part of cricket's essential charm has largely been lost on the marketing men, and not just in England either. The square in Sydney, which once offered spinners as much assistance as any dusty outpost of the Orient, has also been dug up in recent years, and good old seamer-friendly Headingley now resembles more of a batsman's banqueting room.

We will, of course, have to reserve final judgement until England bat on this surface (current requirement, 414 just to avoid the follow-on) in that Australia's attack will be hard pressed to look anything like as ordinary. The most depressing moment yesterday, and there were one or two to chose from, came with the scoreboard reading 473 for 4 in mid-afternoon, and Graham Thorpe coming on to bowl his gentle right-arm dobbers. Ye gods. Fred Trueman would be wondering what was going off out there if he saw Thorpe coming on fourth change for Melton Mowbray, never mind in a Test match.

Allan Border and Steve Waugh followed David Boon (the only wicket to fall yesterday, and that to a stroke of a man who had suddenly developed a guilt complex about stealing sweets from a child's jar) into the century- maker's book, bringing Australia's total to nine (not to mention a 93 and a 99) in their sixth innings of the series. Border is 175 not out, 21 short of his highest score against England, Waugh 144 not out, and their partnership for the fifth wicket is so far worth 292.

The symbolic moment of the day came when Michael Atherton finished flat on his back, making a complete porridge of the opportunity to provide Thorpe with a Test wicket. Steve Waugh was on 127 when he cut Thorpe straight into, and back out of, Atherton's hands at slip, and who knows? With Australia struggling along at 578 for 4 it could have precipitated a major collapse.

Martin McCague also finished the day on his back, getting a massage on the physio's table, although one Australian journalist thought that McCague had left the field because his work permit had expired. McCague bowled with a lot of aggression at Trent Bridge, but in this game, it became more apparent as to why Australia were not too bothered about claiming him as one of their own.

The day began well enough for England, with Mark Illott persuading Boon to hit across a straight one, but the straight one being England's stock delivery - and not even a ball change could prompt a glimpse of swing or seam - Waugh and Border spent the rest of the day propelling it to the advertising boards. They resume this morning until Border decides that it is time for Australia to leave the tuck shop.

This was Border's 26th Test century, and his first against England since he, Boon and Steve Waugh (distant memory though it is) took part in a losing Ashes series in 1986-87. Border is such a consistent player that he maintained a Test average of more than 50 despite playing in 37 Tests between 1988 and 1992 without a three-figure score.

Most of the great left-handers have had a certain elegance about them, but Border is an exception - his cover drive more of a businesslike thump than a piece of poetry. He had plenty of opportunity to play it yesterday, as did Waugh, although it is probably fair to say England's bowling was better than it was on the second day here in 1989, when Australia rattled up 373 runs, and Waugh made 177 not out with a barrage of square cuts against wide long hops. That was his first Test century, and with only three more before this one, Waugh has been something of an under-achiever with the bat, and would probably have lost his place to Damien Martyn before helping to save the Trent Bridge match with 47 not out.

Border celebrated his century with both arms raised to the dressing- room, where his popularity is such that the Australian players rose in prolonged applause.

Waugh merely raised a diffident bat, a combination of his less emotional nature, and the thought that he had probably faced sterner bowling against his twin brother in the back garden. As for England's captain, Graham Gooch ended his birthday contemplating the highest total ever made in a Headingley Test, and dreaming not so much of getting his hands on the Ashes, as around the throat of whoever it was who said that life began at 40.

County Championship reports,

Scoreboard, page 47

----------------------------------------------------------------- TABLE: AUSTRALIA'S HIGHEST TEST TOTALS IN ENGLAND ----------------------------------------------------------------- 729-6 dec Lord's 1930 701 The Oval 1934 695 The Oval 1930 656-8 dec Old Trafford 1964 632-4 dec Lord's 1993 613-4 Headingley 1993 602-6 dec Trent Bridge 1989 601-7 dec Headingley 1989 -----------------------------------------------------------------