Cricket: Taylor silences the gloaters

First Test: Australian captain rises above crisis with three-figured salute as England's euphoria is deflated
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After the heady introduction to summer, England returned to more familiar ground at Edgbaston yesterday. Over an hour of play was lost through rain, England's opening bowlers ignored the lessons of the first day by bowling too short and the Australian batsmen, with Mark Taylor heroically leading the charge, began to prosper. The game suddenly seemed more complicated.

England are still in the driving seat in this First Cornhill Test, but the wheels have been bolted back on to the faltering Australian bandwagon, much to the disappointment of another full house, who had to wait until 3.50pm for the only Australian wicket to fall. By all the rights of the recent hype, they should have been dancing on the grave of Australian cricket by tea-time. The gloating might be over for another year.

Ambushed for 118 inside two and a half hours in their first innings and with Mark Waugh taken to hospital with suspected appendicitis, Australia sailed past that mark without losing a wicket second time around. By close of play, they had reached 256 for 1, still needing 104 to make England bat again but with Taylor unbeaten on 108. Neither Edgbaston nor the Australians deal in draws, so, barring bad weather, an England victory seems only a matter of time. But they would not want to be chasing 180 on the final day with Shane Warne revived and the pitch wearing.

"It's a new day tomorrow, a new start, we are 100-plus ahead and we've got the new ball to come, so it's still a good position to be in," David Lloyd, the england coach, said.

The last hour became a personal march towards salvation for Taylor, whose last Test century came 25 innings ago. A scampered single ended his hell. "A great moment for a great sportsman," Geoff Marsh, the Australian coach, said.

After the indignities suffered by the Taylor in the first three weeks of a miserable tour, most notably the presentation of a three-feet wide mock-up bat by a tabloid newspaper, this was a typically eloquent response.

Far from looking a man hopelessly out of form, as he had in the first innings and for much of the past 18 months, he bore a striking resemblance to the chunky figure who had flayed the England bowling to all parts on his last tour here four years ago. His feet moved with some certainty, his judgement, so awry for so long, was close to perfect and his traditional areas of business, through the covers and backward of square-leg, were once again showing a profit.

Just after tea, taken early (like lunch) because of a shower, Darren Gough bowled the best over of the innings. But, by then, Taylor was past his first fifty since Sri Lanka in December 1995, and remembering what a good player he once was. Gough could only stare as two edges flashed through the slips. But he only had himself to blame. Too many deliveries, from both opening bowlers, were short of a decent length and, if conditions were not as ideal for swing bowling as three mornings before, neither gave themselves much of a chance to find out. Mark Ealham, at a slower pace, was even more culpable. One of his rare full-length balls swung back into Taylor and brought a full-scale appeal, predictably turned down by the umpire Steve Bucknor.

Matthew Elliott too - and, through a sunlit evening, Greg Blewett - played with aplomb. Like Bill Lawry in looks and frame, he produced an off-drive worthy of Graeme Pollock to bring up his fifty. By the time Robert Croft struck, turning one of his flighted off-breaks past Elliott's lunging forward stroke to clip the off stump, the opening stand had reached 133 at a rattling good pace. Elliott stood rooted to the spot, then dropped his head in disbelief at his dismissal, but the first-innings arrears of 360 was looking a little more manageable and morale in the Australian camp had taken a turn for the better. The morning, even before play started, had brought nothing but more anguish.

No sooner had Paul Reiffel been whistled up from his fireside in Melbourne to give the Australian attack some much needed cover than Mark Waugh, one of the mainstays of their batting, was hurried off to see a specialist suffering from stomach pains which had nothing to do with an Italian meal the night before. Ian Chappell, his co-diner, declared himself fit and well.

The "possible" diagnosis was gastro-intestinal or appendicitis and Waugh was kept in hospital under observation last night. Either way, at a time when they could least afford it, Australia were a key man short, which put added pressure on the rest of a top order not gushing with runs. The long-term fear is that Waugh will need an operation, which could rule him for the next two Tests at least. Steve Redgrave was back in light training within two weeks of a recent appendix operation. Normal humans might dare a gentle jog after a month.

With Jason Gillespie definitely out for a week with a hamstring strain, Andy Bichel also struggling for full fitness and Warne troubled by a sore right shoulder, Australia's tour is beginning to resemble the retreat from Moscow.

England were in the luxurious position of hoping overnight rain might have added some life to this enigmatic pitch. Taylor harnessed Michael Bevan with Michael Kasprowicz as if inviting an England declaration. As Glenn McGrath had spent much of the second day with the disgruntled air of a holidaymaker who had misread the brochure, the decision was probably justified, though still a trifle puzzling.

England's highest innings against Australia since Perth in 1986 did not have the glorious conclusion it deserved, though Ealham used the 40 minutes before the declaration to score his second 50 in three Tests with two crashing fours off Kasprowicz. Ian Healy's two catches equalled Rod Marsh and Wally Grout's record six in an innings for Australia. Thereafter England's admirable phlegm in the face of the understandable euphoria proved fully justified.

First Test scoreboard

Third day; Australia won toss

AUSTRALIA - First Innings 118 (S K Warne 47; A R Caddick 5-50, D Gough 3-43).

ENGLAND - First innings

(Overnight: 449 for 6)

M A Butcher c Healy b Kasprowicz 8

(16 min, 13 balls, 2 fours)

*M A Atherton c Healy b McGrath 2

(10 min, 4 balls)

A J Stewart c Elliott b Gillespie 18

(51 min, 33 balls, 3 fours)

N Hussain c Healy b Warne 207

(439 min, 336 balls, 38 fours)

G P Thorpe c Bevan b McGrath 138

(293 min, 245 balls, 19 fours)

J P Crawley c Healy b Kasprowicz 1

(19 min, 14 balls)

M A Ealham not out 53

(172 min, 132 balls, 7 fours)

R D B Croft c Healy b Kasprowicz 24

(71 min, 56 balls, 4 fours; gloved lifting ball to wicketkeeper)

D Gough c Healy b Kasprowicz 0

(8 min, 9 balls; attempting to carve off back foot, edged behind)

A R Caddick lbw b Bevan 0

(11 min, 7 balls; undone by ball turning in)

Extras (b4 lb7 w1 nb15) 27

Total (for 9 dec, 549 min, 138.4 overs) 478

Fall: 1-8 (Atherton) 2-16 (Butcher) 3-50 (Stewart) 4-338 (Thorpe), 5- 345 (Crawley), 6-416 (Hussain) 7-460 (Croft) 8-463 (Gough) 9-478 (Caddick).

Did not bat: D E Malcolm.

Bowling: McGrath 32-8-107-2 (nb7) (5-2-14-1, 9-1-43-0, 7-2-20-0, 7-2- 24-1, 4-1-6-0); Kasprowicz 39-8-113-4 (nb6 w1) (7-0-24-1, 4-1-12-0, 4- 2-2-0, 14-4-37-1, 10-1-38-2); Gillespie 10-1-48-1 (nb1) (5-1-22-1, 5-0- 26-0); Warne 35-8-110-1 (nb1) (3-1-12-0, 15-2-55-0, 6-2-14-0, 11-3-29- 1); Bevan 10.4-0-44-1 (2-0-10-0, 3-0-20-0, 5.4-0-14-1); S Waugh 12-2-45- 0 (nb2) (1-1-0-0, 7-1-30-0, 4-0-15-0).

Progress: Third day: 450: 514 min, 129.5 overs. Declaration: 11.37am.

Hussain's 50: 135 min, 95 balls, 7 fours. 100: 253 min, 189 balls, 17 fours. 150: 327 min, 245 balls, 26 fours. 200: 441 min, 321 balls, 37 fours. Thorpe's 50: 84 min, 67 balls, 8 fours. 100: 190 min, 164 balls, 14 fours. Ealham's 50: 170 min, 131 balls, 7 fours.

AUSTRALIA - Second Innings

M T G Elliott b Croft 66

(146 min, 113 balls, 12 fours; played indeterminate forward stroke)

*M A Taylor not out 108

(319 min, 241 balls, 10 fours, 1 six)

G S Blewett not out 61

(171 min, 128 balls, 8 fours, 1 six)

Extras (b10 lb7 w2 nb2) 21

Total (for 1, 319 min, 80 overs) 256

Fall: 1-133 (Elliott).

To bat: M E Waugh, S R Waugh, M G Bevan, I A Healy, S K Warne, M S Kasprowicz, J N Gillespie, G D McGrath.

Bowling (to date): Gough 19-6-53-0 (2nb) (5-0-18-0, 11-5-29-0, 3-1-6- 0); Malcolm 10-3-25-0 (5-3-11-0, 5-0-14-0); Croft 22-6-70-1 (w2) (6-1- 27-0, 13-4-38-1, 3-1-5-0); Caddick 16-3-41-0 (7-0-22-0, 9-3-19-0); Ealham 13-2-50-0 (7-1-32-0, 6-1-18-0).

Progress: 50: 68 min, 17 overs. Rain stopped play: 12.55pm, 51-0 (Elliott 22, Taylor 29), 17.2 overs (lunch taken). 100: 110 min, 27.5 overs. Rain: 3.56pm, 133-1 (Taylor 66, Blewett 0), 37.5 overs (tea taken). 150: 171 min, 44 overs. 200: 227 min, 58.5 overs. 250: 306 min, 76.3 overs.

Elliott's 50: 119 min, 93 balls, 9 fours. Taylor's 50: 97 min, 69 balls, 6 fours, 1 six. 100: 287 min, 214 balls, 10 fours, 1 six. Blewett's 50: 132 min, 103 balls, 7 fours, 1 six.

Umpires: S A Bucknor and P Willey.

TV Replay Umpire: J W Holder. Match Referee: R S Madugalle.