The last thing that England wanted to do was lose the First npower Test but Australia were relentless yesterday as much as England were insipid. There were three more dropped catches before the tourists' second innings was concluded and then the fierce leg-spin of Shane Warne, allied to the speed of Brett Lee, utterly undermined England. The top four in the order went in the space of only 32 runs after an opening partnership of 80 between Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss offered slender reason for hope.
England had lost only one of their previous 18 matches going into this Test and had won five consecutive series, but the harsh fact is that they are now playing a different kind of Test cricket. There is no chance of England giving up - or not yet, anyway - but one of their outstanding virtues in their run of success has been the manner in which they have played their way out of trouble.
If a side gets into trouble against Australia, that is usually the end of the matter. But Australia have also mastered the art of climbing from their own deep holes. It was difficult to recall yesterday that on Thursday afternoon they were 86 for 5 and 190 all out, with a packed ground thinking that the Ashes might really be coming home.
"Our record is a lot stronger than that," said Marcus Trescothick, the side's vice-captain, resisting towel-throwing-in suggestions. "You can't give into the opposition. We're a tough unit now. We're not just going to give up, but obviously we're on the back foot big time."
The match has demonstrated for good and all that Glenn McGrath, who took five wickets in the first innings, and Warne, who took three yesterday with the prospect of more to come today, are not finished at the age of 35. They have both responded to the big occasion and been inspired by it. The irony that Graham Thorpe has wandered into the sunset at the same age, having been dropped by England after 100 Tests, should not be lost on the home team's selectors.
England needed to finish off Australia quickly yesterday to stay in touch but they shelled three more catches, all off Simon Jones. It meant that Australia lasted until after lunch and accrued a total of 384 with Simon Katich the last man out for 65. Numbers four, five and six all made half centuries.
England had to overtake the West Indies, who once successfully chased down a target of 417. It was fanciful from the start, despite the solid start, and as soon as Warne came on it was more improbable than that.Reuse content