Australia 602-9 dec England 53-3: England's Ashes hopes shot down in flames by McGrath

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The Independent Online

Fifty-two years ago, when Test batsmen still wore caps and bowlers apparently knew how to bowl straight, England came to Brisbane and conceded more than 600 runs in the first innings of the series. Their strike bowler in chief went for 160 runs from 29 overs, took one measly wicket and the tourists lost the match by an innings and plenty.

The fact is worth recording because it was all England had going for them after the second day of this Ashes series. Australia made one run more than they had a generation ago, declaring with one wicket fewer in hand. Stephen Harmison's figures were slightly better than those of Frank Tyson at one for 123 from 30 overs. It just seemed like he should have gone for 160.

The three wickets England had lost before the close made them a darned sight superior to Len Hutton's team who were 25 for four at one stage. In cricket there is always a piece of history to offer salvation.

It is doubtful that Hutton appeared before the fourth estate as did Andrew Flintoff to pronounce that: "We stuck at it but you know you are going to get that from this team." He was not, he insisted, disappointed by the lack of support. "The lads gave everything. I'm pleased with the lads." Hutton would probably have ignored the Press, given there were no agreements in place to speak to them. Fred, for all that he was upbeat and amenable as ever, may as well have done.

Pleased with the lads? The quality of mercy is not strained. This was a man who had bowled 30 overs (probably too many given the previous wear and tear on his ankle) and seen his colleagues at various times send down a load of dross. They improved as the Australian innings went on - Matthew Hoggard was especially noteworthy after lunch - but it was difficult to ignore the truth that the day that mattered had been and gone and still they could not apply the killer blow to end the innings. By the end of the second afternoon, Harmison, who had been so out of sorts the day before, was behaving like an authentic fast bowler again. It was about a day and a half and 120 overs too late.

England had the meagre consolation of preventing Australia's captain, Ricky Ponting, from reaching 200 not long after Australian wags were asking how long it had been since one of their compatriots had reached 300. Ponting looked that good, which probably explained his withering look when he was given out leg before four runs short of what would have been his fifth double century. He had to settle for his 11th Test score above 150.

When he was gone and Adam Gilchrist went three balls later for a duck, England must have entertained the hope of keeping Australia not under 600 but under 500. The last four wickets added 135 in partnerships of 33, 28, 50 and an unbeaten one of 24. Michael Clarke, the late replacement for Shane Watson, made a half-century which might not have been sufficient to cause the hard-nose Australian selectors more than momentary pause for thought. Stuart Clark hit successive sixes off James Anderson.

Ponting's innings bore such a stamp of authority and inevitability that two Australian papers used identical headlines: Best Since Bradman. There have been many Aussie batsmen who have been unfortunately labelled as the next Don Bradman (Test average 99.94) but this was a more realistic honour. Like Bradman, he is not as aesthetically pleasing as he might be but each shot is fashioned with a certainty of movement and touch. There have been nine hundreds in his last 23 innings which not only makes him the best since, it is truly Bradmanesque.

His fourth-wicket partnership of 209 with Mike Hussey was the centrepiece of Australia's innings. This was Hussey's first Ashes Test and although he did not reach the century he deserved it was batting of an extremely high calibre.

After 155 overs Australia called it a day and five-sixths. This left England 23 overs to bat. This was a chance to compare Glenn McGrath and Harmison. There are many in Australia who claim McGrath is over the hill. This may be a misjudgement.

Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook were in reasonable order when Strauss decided to essay a pull. It was a poor shot in any circumstances. To the next ball, Cook nicked one to slip. McGrath was on the verge of his second hat-trick in Tests. The old warrior had come out fighting.

Paul Collingwood was on his way soon after playing a misconceived drive. The first two days of the series have been disappointing not because England are incapable of coming back (though everyone in Australia is already assuming they are a busted flush) but because they have committed a deadly sin. They have deflated anticipation.

Perhaps it has been as well that the English fans have been segregated in the ground. It is unclear how the authorities managed this (maybe they asked what football teams the ticket applicants supported) but there are no large clumps of England fans as there have been at every away Test for the last umpteen years. This meant that they could not assemble and sing an encouraging or even a mocking ditty. The ground has lacked atmosphere as a result, though when England wickets began to fall the Australians came alive.

England were left with three main objectives after the second day and Flintoff, if he was being objective, knew it. Save the follow-on, save the match and prevent the series being lost in 11 days as it was four years ago. If nothing else, the holders of the Ashes found out how hard it will be to retain them. But that is what they had to remember and it makes a difference. Like Hutton's side had been, they are the holders of the Ashes.

Brisbane Scoreboard

Second day of five; Australia won toss

Australia - First Innings

(Overnight: 346 for 3)

*R T Ponting lbw b Hoggard 196

465 min, 319 balls, 24 fours

M E K Hussey b Flintoff 86

259 min, 187 balls, 8 fours

M J Clarke c Strauss b Anderson 56

153 min, 94 balls, 5 fours, 1 six

ÝA C Gilchrist b Hoggard 0

3 min, 3 balls

S K Warne c Jones b Harmison 17

42 min, 26 balls, 1 four

B Lee not out 43

91 min, 61 balls, 6 fours

S R Clark b Flintoff 39

35 min, 23 balls, 3 fours, 2 sixes

G D McGrath not out 8

26 min, 17 balls

Extras (b2 lb8 w8 nb7) 25

Total (for 9 dec, 693 min, 155 overs) 602

Fall (cont): 4-407 (Husey) 5-467 (Ponting) 6-467 (Gilchrist) 7-500 (Warne) 8-528 (Clarke) 9-578 (Clark).

Bowling: Harmison 30-4-123-1 (nb1 w6) (2-0-17-0, 4-0-20-0, 6-2-15-0, 4-0-13-0, 2-0-6-0, 5-0-21-1, 7-2-31-0); Hoggard 31-5-98-2 (nb1) (5-2-17-0, 1-0-10-0, 3-0-15-0, 5-0-17-0, 5-0-11-0, 4-0-14-0, 8-3-14-2); Anderson 29-6-141-1 (w1) (6-2-22-0, 5-1-33-0, 4-0-23-0, 9-3-27-0, 1-0-1-0, 4-0-35-1); Flintoff 30-4-99-4 (nb3 w1) (2-0-10-0, 4-0-8-1, 4-2-12-1, 3-0-10-0, 2-0-7-0, 1-0-1-0, 5-1-16-1, 5-0-21-0, 4-1-14-1); Giles 25-2-91-1 (1-0-1-0, 13-2-41-1, 4-0-9-0, 7-0-40-0); Bell 1-0-12-0 (nb2); Pietersen 9-1-28-0 (one spell each).

Progress: Second day: 350: 394 min, 91 overs. 400: 465 min, 106.1 overs. Lunch: 427-4 (Ponting 177, Clarke 10) 116 overs. 450: 536 min, 122.2 overs. 500: 597 min, 134.3 overs. Tea: 528-8 (Lee 16) 141.3 overs. 550: 646 min, 145.1 overs. 600: 692 min, 154.5 overs. Declaration at 4.01pm.

Langer's 50: 87 min, 65 balls, 8 fours. Ponting's 50: 105 min, 65 balls, 7 fours. 100: 201 min, 136 balls, 15 fours. 150: 345 min, 235 balls, 18 fours. Hussey's 50: 124 min, 94 balls, 4 fours. Clarke's 50: 136 min, 86 balls, 4 fours, 1 six.

England - First Innings

A J Strauss c Hussey b McGrath 12

25 min, 21 balls, 2 fours

A N Cook c Warne b McGrath 11

28 min, 15 balls, 1 four

I R Bell not out 13

54 min, 43 balls, 1 four

P D Collingwood c Gilchrist b Clark 5

24 min, 13 balls, 1 four

K P Pietersen not out 6

26 min, 12 balls, 1 four

Extras (lb4 nb2) 6

Total (for 3, 80 min, 17 overs) 53

Fall: 1-28 (Strauss) 2-28 (Cook) 3-42 (Collingwood).

To bat: *A Flintoff, ÝG O Jones, A F Giles, M J Hoggard, S J Harmison, J M Anderson.

Bowling: Lee 4-1-13-0 (nb1) (3-1-11-0, 1-0-2-0); McGrath 6-0-25-2 (nb1); Clark 6-2-9-1; Warne 1-0-2-0 (one spell each).

Progress: 50: 65 min, 13.3 overs.

Umpires: B F Bowden (NZ) and S A Bucknor (WI).

TV replay umpire: P D Parker.

Match referee: J J Crowe.

How They Rated On Day Two

ENGLAND

ANDREW FLINTOFF: 7

Two more wickets. He (and he almost alone so far) is not going to surrender the Ashes lightly.

MATTHEW HOGGARD: 6

His spell after lunch was, oooh, a day too late but still welcome

ANDREW STRAUSS: 3

For an estimable, clever chap he played a deadbeat's shot to get out.

PAUL COLLINGWOOD: 2

Doughty fighter, perhaps found wanting in the white heat of an Ashes cauldron.

AUSTRALIA

RICKY PONTING: 9

Another exemplary exhibition. When you can bat like that the captaincy almost doesn't matter.

MICHAEL CLARKE: 7

Late call-up after originally being omitted. Solid half century said much about Australians.

GLENN McGRATH: 8

Last Test was in January but was as if it was yesterday. 'Harmy' should have watched each ball and learned.

STUART CLARK: 7

Boisterous hitting followed by line and length bowling. Watched in silhouette, it could have been McGrath.

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