Cricket: The salvage operation starts here

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The Independent Online
THIS match has many of the virtues of a great five-day Test: stamina, resilience, durability, application and utter boredom. It has offered little entertainment, other than to Australian statisticians, while as to elegance and style let us paraphrase Dorothy Parker: the teams have run the gamut from A to B.

Allan Border's first century on this ground, a worthy achievement recalling so many Australian traumas about playing here, epitomised the contest: 'We play the '81 tape over and again for inspiration.'

He batted with a remorseless tenacity that drove Australia past what Keith Fletcher had described, on Thursday, as in effect the point of no return for England, a first-innings total of 450 plus. Fletcher conceded: 'We can get out of it but we'll have a job to win it.'

Border added, grinning: 'We'll take some beating from here. We've had a few breaks. Bicknell bowled well and showed if you hit the seam there is something for the bowler.'

Border has stamped all his batsmen with his attitude; nothing and nobody, in or out of the dressing room, must come between Australia and success. Michael Slater shows disturbing signs of occasionally playing a shot for the hell of it, but otherwise they subscribe to one iron principle: concentrate, make no errors, wait for the looser ball, hit it.

England's tyro seam attack are taking a barrage of criticism, not all informed or well-judged: Andrew Caddick has never bowled here before and this ground has some disconcerting dips and rises for the quick bowler coming downhill.

Mark Ilott is more chest-on in his delivery because he has had to adjust his action to compensate for the stress that forced a back operation. Martin McCague is playing in his second Test, Martin Bicknell in his first, and all four are bowling with next to no help from the conditions.

What the day meant was that Australia retained the Ashes all but mathematically, and that Graham Gooch's career as England's captain is over, although Fletcher insisted: 'Graham has been elected for the series and as far as I'm concerned that's what we will do.'

The remaining three days have to be a salvage operation before rebuilding begins at Edgbaston. Gooch's 40th birthday may be remembered as the nadir of England's post-war fortunes against Australia; what must now be determined is whether a basically young team, under a new captain, will bounce off the bottom or bump along.