Cricket / Fourth Test: Distress signals are plain to see

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The Independent Online
THE UNION flag, hung upside down from a nearby balcony, was an unnecessary signal of distress for England. The parachutists had scarcely cleared their gear when it was clear, after two overs on what looked like straw matting, that Allan Border had retained the Ashes simply by winning the toss.

Keith Fletcher, the England manager, admitted: 'We would have batted but what we were hoping for was a typical Headingley pitch. The ball seamed no more than two or three times all day, when it normally seams once an over.

'I'm disappointed that we did not have the pitch we bowled on last year. I have said all along that Australia are a strong batting side and unless we get some help from the conditions our bowling will struggle.

'(Mark) Ilott and (Martin) Bicknell bowled very well and the whole team stuck to it well.' He was asked if he regretted not playing a spinner: 'History shows that seamers win matches here. It may be that the ball will turn later but I don't think it will bounce. The seamers will still be more dangerous as the pitch wears.'

He added: 'The first three days at Trent Bridge didn't go very well. We need three or four early wickets and we need to restrict them to no more than 450 to 480 top whack to have a chance.'

David Boon reflected the Australian attitude throughout the series of leaving nothing to chance: 'If we get past the 500 mark we'll have a little area of relief. The pitch is similar to 1989 but a couple kept low today and that didn't happen last time. It'll take spin, too, and batting might be hard on the fourth or fifth days.'

Boon, too, praised Bicknell in his first Test, saying that 'he swung it both ways'. He bowled a little too fast in his first spell, trying to make an impression. There is an engaging air of the 1930s about him. He looks like a man who might secretly part his hair in the middle and wear patent leather, two-tone shoes to tango, underground, in a den behind the War Museum. But he was no lounge-lizard in his spells after the tea interval, finding real venom that rendered Border lucky to survive twice in one over.

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