Cricket: Gillespie and Elliott make England suffer

FOURTH TEST: England 172; Australia 258-4: Home batsmen surrender under fine onslaught by Australian paceman and then lose initiative after fighting back
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The National Lottery might have turned us into a nation of gamblers but it has not turned the majority of us into winners. The same can be said of the England cricket team who having decided to play this series on well-grassed surfaces, are seeing their gamble backfire. With three days left, Australia have taken command of the match and with it the series. Only excessive rain here or wins at Trent Bridge and The Oval can prevent the Ashes from remaining in the Antipodes.

They could not have done so, however, without the gargantuan individual performances of Jason Gillespie and Matthew Elliott, who recorded career- bests with ball and bat respectively. Both will leave this match with their reputations deservedly enhanced, as will Ricky Ponting, whose fluent and unbeaten 86 caught the eye.

Gillespie took 7 for 37, from a spell unrivalled in this series for its hostility. It was only his second five-wicket haul in Tests but the quality on display showed he can be a worthy heir to the great Aussie fast bowling tradition fostered by the likes of Lindwall, Lillee and Thomson.

Elliott's contribution was not far behind, though, as at Lord's where he recorded his previous Test best, he was reprieved more than once by England. The first chance to Graham Thorpe, a comfortable head-high catch to first slip, would have given Mike Smith his first Test wicket.

With Elliott on 29 at the time, it was a bad miss, though one whose disappointment was immediately swallowed up by the euphoria that followed a ball later, when Dean Headley took the prize wicket of Steve Waugh, smartly caught by John Crawley at short leg.

Australia were 50 for 4 and in some disarray. With both Waughs joining Mark Taylor and Greg Blewett back in the hutch, there was the chance that England, bowled out for 172, might even take a first-innings lead.

Elliott had other ideas however, as he and Ponting took advantage of the now mellowing surface to add an unbeaten 208 runs for the fifth wicket. When the sun shines for long periods at Headingley, the pitch can turn from snarling beast to lap dog, a change that is just as quickly reversed when the clouds roll in. Mind you, England did not help their cause by straying too short on a surface that demanded patience and a good length and 140 out of the 258 runs they conceded came from boundaries.

Considering this was only his sixth first-class outing in 11 weeks, Ponting played with remarkable composure and style and he was the only player on either side able to drive the ball straight. By contrast, Elliott, a happy hooker in denial for most of this series, decided to play his shots square of the wicket including two thrilling pulls for six off Headley.

Well though the pair played, the day belonged to Gillespie, whose bowling was a notch above anything else on display.

The 21-year-old has the unusual practice of marking his run up with a tape measure before the match. Although he does this at both ends, he only needed one, the Kirkstall Lane, from which to work his mayhem. With both the slope and breeze facilitating his momentum, he bowled fast and straight.

It was noticeable that he got more out of this pitch than any other bowler. His height and pace certainly made the vagaries within the pitch more disconcerting and England may yet regret having packed Andy Caddick off down the motorway on Thursday morning. Certainly the ball did not swing for Smith, who rarely looked threatening.

Having snared Alec Stewart on Thursday evening, Gillespie got rid of the nightwatchman, Dean Headley, with his first ball of the morning. Headley, who had played some delightful shots in keeping his captain company scythed a wide one to gully, where Steve Waugh held on to a stinging catch.

At this point Gillespie had not yet settled and he was twice biffed to the midwicket boundary by Graham Thorpe.

Atherton, meanwhile, was slowly becoming marooned. With only eight runs in 70 minutes, even his patience was wearing thin and although it was exactly the kind of slow-drip skirmish he most relishes, he could not resist having a hook at Glenn McGrath's bouncer. As at Lord's and Old Trafford, he was unable to control the shot and the swirling edge was pouched by Gillespie at long leg.

As has happened so many times following Atherton's departure, England folded, losing their last five wickets for 18 runs, all of them to a now rampant Gillespie. Only Crawley, another falling to a fortuitous catch at short leg, could consider himself absolved of blame, after Thorpe had bottom-edged another pull shot on to his stumps.

Flicking Gillespie firmly off his toes, Crawley set off for a run only to see the ball snatched up by Blewett as it obligingly bounced up off his right boot.

Putting the boot into England has been something of an Australian speciality in recent Ashes series. By the close, Mark Taylor's men were 86 ahead and lacing up their Doc Martens.

Headingley scoreboard

(Australia won toss)

ENGLAND - First innings

(Overnight: 106 for 3)

*M A Atherton c Gillespie b McGrath 41

(223 min, 143 balls, 6 fours)

D W Headley c S Waugh b Gillespie 22

49 min, 32 balls, 2 fours

G P Thorpe b Gillespie 15

(29 min, 26 balls, 3 fours)

J P Crawley c Blewett b Gillespie 2

(23 min, 13 balls)

M A Ealham not out 8

(41 min, 24 balls)

R D B Croft c Ponting b Gillespie 6

(12 min, 8 balls, 1 four)

D Gough b Gillespie 0

(5 min, 2 balls)

A M Smith b Gillespie 0

(2 min, 2 balls)

Extras (b4,lb4,w1,nb12) 21

Total (269 min, 59.4 overs) 172

Fall: 4-138 (Headley), 5-154 (Atherton), 6-154 (Thorpe), 7-163 (Crawley), 8-172 (Croft), 9-172 (Gough), 10-172 (Smith).

Bowling: McGrath 22-5-67-2 (nb3,w1) (7-0-25-0 10-2-38-1 5-3-4-1), Reiffel 20-4-41-1 (nb9) (6-1-10-0 7-1-15-1 7-2-16-0), Gillespie 13.4-1-37-7 (nb1) (6-0-14-1 7.4-1-23-6), Blewett 3-0-17-0, Warne 1-0-2-0 (one spell each).

AUSTRALIA - First innings

*M A Taylor c Stewart b Gough 0

10 min, 11 balls

M T G Elliott not out 134

(275 min, 233 balls, 17 fours, 3 sixes)

G S Blewett c Stewart b Gough 1

(15 min, 8 balls)

M E Waugh c and b Headley 8

(31 min, 18 balls, 1 four)

S R Waugh c Crawley b Headley 4

(15 min, 12 balls)

R T Ponting not out 86

(200 min, 142 balls, 11 fours, 1 six)

Extras (b3,lb2,nb20) 25

Total (for 4, 275 min, 67 overs) 258

Fall: 1-0 (Taylor), 2-16 (Blewett), 3-43 (M Waugh), 4-50 (S Waugh).

To bat: I A Healy, S K Warne, P R Reiffel, J N Gillespie, G D McGrath.

Bowling: Gough 19-4-65-2 (nb4) (6-3-10-2 3-0-13-0 5-0-25-0 5-1-17-0), Headley 15-1-66-2 (nb8) (10-1-43-2 3-0-13-0 2-0-10-0), Smith 13-1-55-0 (nb4) (8-1-28-0 2-0-10-0 3-0-17-0), Ealham 6-3-15-0 (2-1-8-0 4-2-7-0), Croft 12-0-38-0 (2-0-11-0 2-0-2-0 7-0-24-0 1-0-1-0), Butcher 2-0-14-0 (nb6) (one spell).

Progress: Second day: England: 150: 216 min, 49.2 overs. Innings closed 12.53pm. Progress: Australia 50: 69 min, 16 overs. 100: 121 min, 28.3 overs. Tea: 114-4 (Elliott 65, Ponting 25) 31 overs. 150: 159 min, 38.3 overs. 200: 221 min, 53.5 overs. 250: 265 min, 64.1 overs. Elliott 50: 114 min, 95 balls, 7 fours, 1 six. 100: 185 min, 156 balls, 14 fours, 2 sixes. Ponting 50: 118 min, 81 balls, 8 fours.

Umpires: M J Kitchen and C J Mitchley.