Cricket: Meek, distracted tourists shall inherit the dearth

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There are three main ways of taking wickets in Test matches. The first is to bowl an unplayable ball. No need to remind England of that when Shane Warne is in the vicinity. The second is to stop the flow of runs: when two batsmen are bogged down, one of them is as good as out. The third is to create a diversion, a fatal break in concentration.

Australia bowled 410 balls yesterday and not one of them was unplayable. Half an hour after tea, England were on top. They were 114-1, nearly half-way to a first-innings lead. Mike Atherton and Graham Thorpe were together and had just passed the previousbest stand of the match (71 by the Waugh brothers). The only batsman out, Hick, had made it plain that he did not think he was. Out of 45 overs, Warne had bowled only eight, and he had been, well, if not innocuous, at least manageable.

Then something happened: a one-man pitch invasion. The intruder kept his shorts on, but took off the bails before being rugby-tackled by three stewards.

The players seldom take much notice of this sort of thing, unless it involves a naked woman. But Warne was laughing. Either he has a fairly basic sense of humour, or he knew that the only possible loser in this incident, apart from the invader's pocket, was England.

At the same time, Thorpe went into his shell. He had been the dominant partner, catching Atherton up after giving him 17 overs' head start. Atherton had been becalmed since tea; now Thorpe was, too. A few minutes after the invasion, Atherton was out.

A few minutes after that, there was another break, for drinks. Thorpe remained paralysed, adding only one off 14 balls before he, too, was out. Warne had something to do with both dismissals, and so did the umpire, Steve Bucknor, of Jamaica, who collected two dirty looks. But the portents had been clear enough.

When Gatting fell, too, after looking nothing like a man who had just made 200 not out, England were back where they started in Brisbane a month ago. Of their last 17 Test wickets, Warne has taken 13. He is good, but he's not that good.

English batsmen are getting out to him for the same reason that Brian Lara got out to Zoe Goss, of the Australian Women's XI, in that charity match the other day; simply because they are afraid that they will.

The old adage about making your own luck has always seemed cruel. Luck is precisely that which you cannot control. And yet . . . You cannot be given out caught at silly point if you have done some controlled hitting and silly point has disappeared into the deep. Nobody went down the pitch to Warne yesterday. Nobody even drove him.

England were meek, and in sport there is nothing blessed about that.