Australia 602-9 dec and 181-1 England 157: Ponting's message: retribution will be remorseless

McGrath in familiar form as Australia decide mere victory is not enough and heap humiliation on Flintoff's hapless, helpless, hopeless England
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The defeat of Australia in 2005 was one of the great achievements in English sport. It was also, it can now be verified, extremely dangerous. The stricken opponents were clearly angrier about it than anybody could have presumed.

Not content with a straightforward victory in the First Test of the return series, the home side applied the foot to the throat of a prostrate man on the third day. Having dismissed the tourists for 157, a lead of 445, they chose not to enforce the follow-on and increased the gap to 626 runs for the loss of one wicket.

It was staggering to behold. When England were batting the pitch was a minefield, when Australia had their second turn it was transformed into a featherbed. Such is the fate of subjugated teams.

England came into this series brimful of hope. That they were not favourites seemed to fill them with a kind of perverse pride. They had done it before and they could jolly well do it again. It has all gone badly awry. An important toss was lost and that was that.

Australia have won every session and they have almost won every over. Some judges reckon it has been as bad as it could ever have been. Australia have scored higher totals against England (on 10 occasions), they have had bigger first-innings leads (twice) but only once in any Test match have any team led by more and decided not to enforce the follow-on (England against West Indies in 1930).

It was at the point when Australia decided to bat again after Glenn McGrath had announced his return to Test cricket by taking 6 for 50 that it became starkly clear what they intend to do in this series, and how England will need to be stronger and cleverer than anybody could have imagined to resist.

In England last year it was sometimes necessary to follow the action both literally and metaphorically from behind the sofa, because it was so tense and gripping that it was unbearable to watch. A similar viewing option may have to be taken this time, only because there is a question of whether eyes should be subjected to such cruelty.

England have played as badly as Australia have played well. There will be recriminations: about the manner of their preparation, which was hurried and insufficient; about their team selection, which was craven because it ignored the fact that teams evolve; and about their captain, because he cannot manage himself properly in the field. These are all justified.

But equally, England have not been allowed to play well. They have been awe-struck. If that was encapsulated by the wide which Stephen Harmison delivered to start the series, it has been witnessed in every movement on the pitch. Much is made of game- plans. Australia's appears to come down to the fact that they intend-ed to bully puny opposition and then kick sand in their face.

The tourists began the third day 549 runs in arrears and dependent on Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell to bat long into the day. Their contrasting styles might at least confuse Australia. This notion lasted for 11 overs until Pietersen was out padding up, although he should have been caught at mid-on driving statically off the back foot earlier.

When Flintoff was out to his third ball, playing hard at a delivery nobody wants that early, it became a question not of whether England might save the follow-on but of how short of it they would be. It was as if they had learned nothing from playing Australia this past 20 years. McGrath did the same things he has been doing for the last 12 of those at a more sedate pace, and still they fell for it.

England were terrified of the pitch, which was displaying some alarming cracks. Only Bell played with some gumption, only he made a half-century. But his end was disappointing, pushing at and edging one from Stuart Clark. The highest stand of the innings was between Bell and Geraint Jones, who batted attractively. He kept wicket solidly too, but in neither department could he quite dispel the feeling that he was lucky to be there.

Such was England's capitulation that Australia might have come close to dismissing them again. Since losing to India five years back they have been wary of enforcing the follow-on. Then, a lead of 274 was compellingly overhauled and Australia lost.

But there was more to it. Australian machismo was at work. Out came England to bowl again. Out came Australia slugging.

On balance, it went better than in the first innings. But Harmison, the poor villain of that piece, was not granted the new ball. Instead, James Anderson was put to the sword. Anderson has bowled some devilish balls, but there has been some decidedly mundane stuff too. Good batsmen remain unthreatened.

Apart from Matthew Hoggard, who was as befuddled as everybody on the first day, Flintoff has been easily England's outstanding bowler. But he bowled only five overs yesterday. He bowled 30 in the first innings but maybe he should have bowled 40. He should certainly have started on the second morning. He has mishandled himself so far.

Ashley Giles also bowled only five overs after delivering a mere seven in the last 65 of the first innings. He deserves his supporters, but has not seen off Monty Panesar. Not by a long chalk.

Flintoff was desperate for the captaincy. He has reacted well usually, but there were signs towards the close of the third day that it was all too much. It is always the case that players who are out of the side assume a greater status. Michael Vaughan, who would have been captain here had injury not intervened, has now taken on mythical qualities.

England took one wicket, a run-out effected by Anderson's throw as Matthew Hayden tried to snatch two. That, too, was part of the bullying process: running two when there is really only one. Ponting and Justin Langer did much as they liked. England were in chains.