At 3.44pm yesterday Andrew Flintoff's career as England captain appeared to be reaching a pivotal moment. Monty Panesar had just been heaved for two huge sixes and driven for a thumping four by Andrew Symonds. Australia were on 172 for 4 and many a sage was suggesting it was time for Flintoff to remove his spinner from the attack and replace him with a seamer.
Yet, after a brief moment of contemplation during a maiden over from Sajid Mahmood, Flintoff opted to give Panesar another over. The decision changed the course of a magnificent day of cricket here in Perth. Panesar dismissed Symonds in his next over and went on to claim 5 for 92 as England bowled Australia out for 244 on the first day of the third Ashes Test.
In a turbo-charged final hour Australia struck twice. Alastair Cook drove loosely and was caught at fourth slip while Ian Bell edged an excellent ball from Brett Lee through to the wicketkeeper. Paul Collingwood should have gone too, but Shane Warne dropped him at first slip off the bowling of Stuart Clark.
There was nothing special about the delivery that dismissed Symonds. Panesar bowled more bad balls yesterday than in any of his previous 10 Tests. But yesterday was his day. Perhaps Flintoff, during his time with Symonds at Lancashire, had noticed the forceful right-hander was at his most vulnerable when batting with such gusto. Perhaps not. He may have thought, "Blow it, I might as well give him another one. We're 2-0 down in the series, we've got nothing to lose and I don't fancy another spell into the wind."
Whatever prompted Flintoff to show faith in his spinner, England should be grateful. By holding his nerve Flintoff instigated Australia's collapse, a performance that may yet keep this Ashes series alive.
Panesar was not the only England bowler to star. The seamers, led by a rejuvenated Stephen Harmison, were magnificent, too. Mahmood was wicketless but he bowled with fire, justifying his selection ahead of James Anderson. But it was the much-maligned Harmison who led England's charge on a pitch offering pace and bounce. He was fast, mostly straight, and he thoroughly deserved his four wickets.
However, it was the short, wide ball that dismissed Symonds that allowed England to prosper. It deserved to be clubbed through backward point for four but, in his eagerness to execute such a shot, Symonds swiped hard, got a fine top edge on the ball, and Geraint Jones took a juggling catch.
In his next over Panesar accounted for the very dangerous Adam Gilchrist, who edged a forward prod on to the knee-roll of his pad and was well caught by a diving Ian Bell at short-leg. Warne entertained a record Test crowd of 24,500 at the WACA for 50 minutes, swatting the ball to unguarded areas before falling to Panesar in a similar fashion to Symonds.
Panesar claimed the third five-wicket haul of his career when the umpire Aleem Dar adjudged Brett Lee leg before. Television replays suggested that the ball would have clipped the bails. If Warne was to be given such decisions on a regular basis he would have close to 1,000 Test wickets by now.
It would be uncharitable to say Panesar did not deserve his haul, the best by an English spinner at this venue, but there will be many days in his career when he bowls better than this and has less to show for it. Even so, it was a remarkable effort. Warne has played 11 Tests at this venue and is yet take a five-for. Panesar managed it at the first attempt. Top players have the happy knack of performing well after they have been doubted and Panesar has once again proved he is a top cricketer.
The manner in which Flintoff used Panesar highlighted why he should have played ahead of Ashley Giles in Brisbane and Adelaide. Giles continues to make the most of his ability but he is rarely used as an attacking option. But this is how Flintoff employed Panesar from the moment he invited him to bowl.
Intelligent fields were set. Mid-on and midwicket were positioned two-thirds of the way to the boundary in an attempt to make the Australian batsmen think twice about advancing down the pitch and hacking Panesar over the top. It worked. But with three catchers around the bat there were dangers in defending, too. And Justin Langer perished doing just this in the final over before lunch when he pushed weakly at a length ball and lost his off-stump.
In comparison to many members of the England side Panesar is not that athletic, yet nobody could catch him as he celebrated taking his first Ashes wicket with the seventh ball he bowled. It was the third time in 150 minutes he had brought the large English contingent at the WACA to their feet. When Flintoff revealed that Panesar had been selected ahead of Giles at the toss the crowd roared in approval, as they did when he came on to bowl 10 minutes before lunch.
These same fans would have feared the worst after 45 minutes of play. On an excellent pitch, and after winning an important toss, Australia had advanced to 47 without loss. Matthew Hayden and Langer shared a little good fortune but it seemed as though they were intent on burying England.
Boundaries came far too easily before Flintoff brought Harmison on. The arrival of the Durham paceman has previously led to the run rate rising but he immediately slipped in to a good rhythm. Matthew Hoggard dismissed an overadventurous Hayden in the 11th over and 19 minutes later Harmison claimed the prize wicket of Ricky Ponting. The Australian captain did not seem pleased with the decision, but the umpire got it absolutely right. He was plum.
Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke looked set to correct the early damage before Clarke attempted to pull a Harmison delivery and was caught and bowled. Panesar made the most of Australia's carelessness and Harmison cleaned up the tail, leaving Hussey undefeated on 74.
Hussey spent a summer at Northamptonshire batting against Panesar; his team-mates would be wise to follow his example.
Monty's magic: The five he left spellbound
Monty Panesar became the first England spin bowler to take five wickets in an innings at Perth. Here is how he did it:
b Panesar 37 (Australia 69-3)
Langer fell in the final over before lunch in Panesar's second over. Pushing forward defensively, Langer mis-read the line and lost his off-stump.
c Jones b Panesar 26 (Aus 172-5)
All-rounder Symonds, playing his first Test in a year, hit two sixes and a four off one Panesar over, but when he attempted a cut he edged behind to wicketkeeper Geraint Jones, who took the catch at the second attempt.
c Bell b Panesar 0 (Aus 172-6)
Gilchrist, like Symonds, fell before tea when he pushed forward to offer a bat-pad chance. It looped over Ian Bell at silly mid-on but the Warwickshire batsman made a diving catch.
c Jones b Panesar (Aus 214-7)
Warne played in a similar manner to Symonds, hitting 25 off only 23 balls before falling in an identical fashion trying to cut and this time Jones took the catch cleanly.
lbw b Panesar 10 (Aus 234-8)
Lee was given leg before by umpire Aleem Dar, pushing forward down the pitch, and TV replays showed the ball would have clipped the top of off-stump.
England's pride of Perth
Best figures by England bowlers against Australia at the WACA:
I T Botham 6-78 1979-80
R G D Willis 5-44 1978-79
M S Panesar 5-92 2006-07
I T Botham 5-98 1979-80
C White 5-127 2002-03
J K Lever 4-28 1978-79
G Miller 4-70 1982-83
G R Dilley 4-79 1986-87
A J Tudor 4-89 1998-99
J A Snow 4-143 1970-71
Australia won toss
Australia - First Innings
J L Langer b Panesar 37
116 min, 68 balls, 6 fours
M L Hayden c Jones b Hoggard 24
48 min, 33 balls, 3 fours
*R T Ponting lbw b Harmison 2
19 min, 11 balls
M E K Hussey not out 74
245 min, 161 balls, 10 fours
M J Clarke c and b Harmison 37
62 min, 67 balls, 4 fours
A Symonds c Jones b Panesar 26
38 min, 30 balls, 2 fours, 2 sixes
ÝA C Gilchrist c Bell b Panesar 0
7 min, 4 balls
S K Warne c Jones b Panesar 25
32 min, 23 balls, 3 fours
B Lee lbw b Panesar 10
32 min, 25 balls, 2 fours
S R Clark b Harmison 3
12 min, 5 balls
G D McGrath c Cook b Harmison 1
4 min, 2 balls
Extras (w1 nb4) 5
Total (314 min, 71 overs) 244
Fall: 1-47 (Hayden) 2-54 (Ponting) 3-69 (Langer) 4-121 (Clarke) 5-172 (Symonds) 6-172 (Gilchrist) 7-214 (Warne) 8-234 (Lee) 9-242 (Clark) 10-244 (McGrath).
Bowling: Hoggard 12-2-40-1 (8-1-30-1, 4-1-10-0); Flintoff 9-2-36-0 (nb4) (4-1-21-0, 3-1-6-0, 2-0-9-0); Harmison 19-4-48-4 (w1) (7-3-9-1, 6-0-23-1, 6-1-16-2); Panesar 24-4-92-5 (5-2-6-1, 19-2-86-4); Mahmood 7-2-28-0 (1-0-3-0, 6-2-25-0).
Progress: First day: 50: 59 min, 12.3 overs. Lunch: 69-3 (Hussey 2) 24.1 overs. 100: 155 min, 34.2 overs. 150: 205 min, 46.4 overs. Tea: 84-6 (Hussey 46, Warne 8) 54 overs. 200: 250 min, 56.4 overs. Innings closed: 5.46pm.
Hussey's 50: 170 min, 107 balls, 8 fours.
England - First Innings
A J Strauss not out 24
62 min, 47 balls, 4 fours
A N Cook c Langer b McGrath 15
26 min, 15 balls, 2 fours
I R Bell c Gilchrist b Lee 0
5 min, 2 balls
P D Collingwood not out 10
29 min, 22 balls, 1 four
Extras (nb2) 2
Total (for 2, 62 min, 14 overs) 51
Fall: 1-36 (Cook) 2-37 (Bell).
To bat: K P Pietersen, *A Flintoff, ÝG O Jones, S I Mahmood, M J Hoggard, S J Harmison, M S Panesar.
Bowling: Lee 5-0-24-1 (nb1); McGrath 5-1-18-1 (nb1); Clark 2-1-1-0; Warne 2-0-8-0 (one spell each).
Progress: First day: 50: 60 min, 13.1 overs.
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and R E Koertzen (SA).
TV replay umpire: S J Davis.
Match referee: J J Crowe.Reuse content