Cricket: Too little too late for England

Fifth Test: The Ashes disappear in the sunshine but Hollioakes give a glimpse of a brighter dawn
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A summer of frustration has been shoehorned into three days at Trent Bridge. It is not just a matter of the first decent cricket pitch of the series nor the delayed introduction of Ben Hollioake which has made the imminent disappearance of the Ashes so disappointing, it is the patchy nature of England's defiance. Had Devon Malcolm bowled with his second-day fire on the first morning, had England produced such razor- sharp cricket with the match at stake rather than long gone, The Oval would not be just a test of pride.

There have been touches of brilliance. John Crawley's diving catch inches off the ground at deep square leg to remove Matthew Elliott has rarely been bettered nor Shane Warne's slaughter by Alec Stewart.

The Hollioakes, in their different ways, have hinted of a prosperous future as has Dean Headley. But the reality, rammed home by the consistency of their batting - six Australian batsmen have made fifties - and in the discipline of their bowling yesterday, is that Australia have a higher cruising speed.

No one could fault England's effort, but by the end of another stifling, tough day of Test cricket, Mark Taylor and Greg Blewett had eased the game out of sight. All that is left is another theoretical chase for victory and two more days of hard labour to force a draw. Since Edgbaston, England have faced deficits of 136, 73, 329 and, yesterday, 114. It is difficult playing catch-up against the world champions.

By close, Australia led by 281 runs and a phantom trumpeter in the bleachers had blown the Last Post. In fact, the tabloids had done that for Mike Atherton at daybreak with the news that the England captain offered to relinquish his badge before this Test. It did not conform to Atherton's style and an emphatic denial was duly forthcoming. But the Jeremiahs did not rule out the possibility of an innings defeat and a resignation by sundown.

Wisely, given his impression of a sleepwalker on Friday evening, Graham Thorpe left Warne to his Surrey team-mate, Adam Hollioake. Hitting against the spin, as Stewart had done so gloriously, was not the recipe for a long life; Hollioake played more circumspectly, but with as much assurance as any England batsman in the series. Anything overpitched was driven soundly through the covers, anything short swept cheekily or cut with authority.

Survival remained Thorpe's main objective. Badly dropped on 31 by Steve Waugh in the gully, Thorpe responded with a trade-mark cross-bat whack backward of square. With Warne's first spell safely negotiated, the follow- on erased and the 100 partnership posted with a stirring six, England seemed to have reached a plateau.

But two wickets in five balls forced a regroup. Hollioake was the first victim, pushing at Paul Reiffel and giving Taylor his 122nd catch in Test cricket - a beauty given that Mark Waugh dived across his line. Only Allan Border, with 155, has more.

The following over Thorpe too was gone, lured forward once too often by Warne. For the second Test he had committed the cardinal sin of failing to consolidate after the loss of a wicket and his slow trudge back to the pavilion revealed his anguish.

But if Ben Hollioake was rattled by this torrid introduction to Test cricket or the advent of the new ball, little in his manner betrayed fear. His arrival at the wicket, crossing with his brother on the steps, was arrogantly sedate, his opening defensive strokes equally unhurried.

At the end of his run, McGrath was pawing the ground in anticipation of some ego-denting. Hollioake stood bat slightly raised, balance near perfect and, for 56 minutes either side of lunch, lifted the yoke with the innocent crispness of his strokeplay.

Of his five fours, none required more than a few paces down the wicket for the batsman nor the semblance of a chase by any fielder. The joust with Glenn McGrath was a drama all of its own. At times, McGrath ended his exaggerated follow-through within eyeballing distance of his foe, forgetting that Hollioake was schooled in the art of confrontation during his two-year spell at Wesley College in Perth.

It was too good to last, of course. Just as Hollioake was beginning to induce misty eyes and extravagant comparisons, Reiffel made one lift a fraction and Mark Waugh took a straightforward catch above his head. Like a good actor, Hollioake left the audience chanting for more, but the feeling that at last England - and Hollioake arrived on these shores from Australia at the age of three - has produced a cricketer of uplifting talent will sustain hope long after the Ashes have disappeared.

The entertainment did not end with Hollioake, thanks to Malcolm's last- wicket stand of 23 with Headley. Who needs the MacLaurin report and an American style County Championship? Appendix A: preserve Devon and his bat in aspic.

As farce, this was pure Whitehall. McGrath opened with a bouncer, Malcolm countered with two fours, one flailed through covers, the other elegantly persuaded wide of mid-on. Cue delirium.

The fourth ball, another bouncer, was proof that unintelligent cricket is not England's sole province. The passing was sweet sorrow, good comedy too, but defied description. Suffice to say, the contortions and the splayed stumps produced the hint of a smile on McGrath's face. The serious stuff is over for another summer.

Fifth Test scoreboard

Australia won toss

Australia - First innings: 427 (M A Taylor 76, S R Waugh 75, M T G Elliott 69, M E Waugh 68, G S Blewett 50)

England - First innings

(Overnight 188-4)

*M A Atherton c Healy b Warne 27

(111 min, 75 balls, 3 fours)

A J Stewart c Healy b Warne 87

(136 min, 107 balls, 14 fours)

J P Crawley c Healy b McGrath 18

(63 min, 44 balls, 2 fours)

N Hussain b Warne 2

(27 min, 22 balls)

G P Thorpe c Blewett b Warne 53

(154 min, 118 balls, 6 fours; caught at short leg off glove)

A J Hollioake c Taylor b Reiffel 45

(139 min, 94 balls, 6 fours, 1 six; brilliantly held at first slip, driving)

B C Hollioake c M Waugh b Reiffel 28

(57 min, 39 balls, 5 fours; prods to slip off back foot)

R D B Croft c Blewett b McGrath 18

(40 min, 34 balls, 2 fours, 1 six; pushed to short leg)

A R Caddick c Healy b McGrath 0

(17 min, 6 balls; pushes forward edges to keeper)

D W Headley not out 10

(24 min, 17 balls, 2 fours)

D E Malcolm b McGrath 12

(20 min, 12 balls, 3 fours; taking evasive action against yorker)

Extras (b2,lb6,nb5) 3

Total (398 min, 93.5 overs) 313

Fall: 1-106 (Atherton), 2-129 (Stewart), 3-135 (Hussain), 4-141 (Crawley), 5-243 (A Hollioake), 6-243 (Thorpe), 7-272 (Croft), 8-290 (B Hollioake), 9-290 (Caddick), 10-313 (Malcolm).

Bowling: McGrath 29.5-9-71-4 (7-2-12-0 9-3-20-1 7-3-17-0 6.5-1-22-3), Reiffel 21-2-101-2 (nb3) (5-0-21-0 5-1-22-0 2-0-10-0 5-0-25-1 4-1-23-1), Gillespie 11-3-47-0 (nb1) (4-0-32-0 3-1-13-0 2-0-2-0 2-2-0-0), Warne 32- 8-86-4 (nb1) (28-7-69-3 4-1-17-1).

Progress: Second day: 50 in 60 min, 13.4 overs. Tea: 76-0 (Atherton 18, Stewart 52) 19 overs. 100 in 104 min, 24.4 overs. 150 in 196 min, 46.1 overs. Close: 188-4 (Thorpe 30, A Hollioake 15) 57 overs. Third day: 200 in 258 min, 62.3 overs. 250 in 329 min, 78.4 overs. New ball taken after 81 overs at 267-6. Lunch 272-7 (B Hollioake 11) 85.5 overs. 300 in 385 min, 90.4 overs. Innings closed 2.18pm.

Stewart 50: 78 min, 61 balls, 10 fours. Thorpe 50: 120 min, 103 balls, 6 fours.

Australia - Second innings

*M A Taylor c Hussain b B Hollioake 45

(134 mins, 100 balls, 7 fours; pulled high in air to square leg)

M T G Elliott c Crawley b Caddick 37

(63 mins, 40 balls, 7 fours; caught on boundary hooking)

G S Blewett c Stewart b Caddick 60

(129 mins, 94 balls, 7 fours; gloved attempted hook)

M E Waugh lbw b Headley 7

(32 mins, 22 balls, 1 four; half-forward, trapped in crease)

S R Waugh not out 10

(59 mins, 23 balls, 1 four)

R T Ponting not out 5

(33 mins, 33 balls)

Extras (lb3) 3

Total (4 wkts, 227 mins, 52 overs) 167

Fall: 1-51 (Elliott), 2-105 (Taylor), 3-134 (M Waugh), 4-156 (Blewett).

Bowling: Malcolm 11-4-32-0 (6-2-20-0 5-2-12-0), Headley 13-1-41-1 (5- 1-20-0 8-0-21-1), Croft 9-3-22-0 (8-3-20-0 1-0-2-0), Caddick 14-2-43-2 (8-1-22-1 6-1-21-1), B Hollioake 5-1-26-1 (one spell).

Progress: Third day: 50 in 62 mins, 14.4 overs. Tea 56-1 (Taylor 12, Blewett 5) 17 overs. 100 in 127 mins, 30.3 overs. 150 in 188 mins, 43.2 overs.

Blewett 50: 120 mins, 87 balls, 6 fours.

Umpires: C J Mitchley and D R Shepherd.

TV Replay Umpire: A A Jones. Match Referee: C W Smith.