Cricket: Taylor takes share of honours

The performances of Steve Waugh and Shane Warne have cornered the attention during the Old Trafford Test but not to be forgotten is Mark Taylor.

His personal crisis of form has been well chronicled; less appreciated, perhaps, has been the way he has kept his own anxieties separate from leading his side, an extraordinary achievement.

By tradition, Australia have always picked the best XI before deciding who should be captain. On form, Taylor did not qualify and has been under enormous pressure. Yet he has betrayed not the slightest sign of it. Moreover, in this match he has demonstrated the qualities that persuaded the selectors to stand by him.

Bearing in mind the fragility of his own form, his Edgbaston century notwithstanding, is there another captain who would have chosen to bat first last Thursday on a damp wicket, under heavy cloud and against a seam attack as buoyant as England's? Certainly not Michael Atherton, whom David Lloyd confirmed on Friday as having been ready to bowl, in the coach's words, "without a shadow of a doubt".

Taylor had on his mind the lack of historical precedent - no captain putting the opposition in has ever won a Test at Old Trafford - but, perhaps more relevently, the knowledge that the ends of an under-prepared wicket were bare, a fact he seemed to consider more significant than the grassier parts in between.

His decision to bat guaranteed that he and his batting team-mates faced enormous demands, but he knew there was every chance the sun would shine on Warne and the side batting second and fourth might face a stiffer test still. And so it has proved.

Lloyd admitted this match is as good as lost. "Realistically, we needed to knock over the remaining Australian wickets quickly," he said. "We didn't. We are alive and kicking but only just.

"The conditions are ideal for a bowler like Warne to come into his own. If we are disappointed it is to have seen Jason Gillespie knock three over on a wicket that, when we were bowling, seemed to have flattened out."

Shane Warne has been given permission to fly home at the end of the match following the birth of his daughter, Brooke Victoria, 11 days ago, provided he returns for the next fixture, against Glamorgan on 16 July.

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