Bowlers left clueless after cunning plan goes astray

As Australia's sixth-wicket partnership reached record proportions yesterday, England's secret bowling plans were being revealed. The two events were unconnected, but the conclusion to be drawn from the combination of what was disclosed and what was on view should be either a return to the drawing board or the recruitment of bowlers capable of following cunningly laid strategies.

It had all begun so well. There was some juice in the pitch and England extracted it. But by the close, the tourists were 213 behind, facing a 4-0 series deficit and their carefully devised bowling strategies were in enemy hands. It was a disaster and England now have to work out whether to hatch new plans or find new bowlers. An inquiry was launched - into the disappearing plan, not the bowling - and allegations just dropped short of blaming an international spy network.

Matthew Hayden and Andrew Symonds both made big centuries in their stand of 279, which was the sixth highest for the sixth wicket in Tests, the third highest for Australia and the second highest in an Ashes match. While they were closing in on the daddy of them all, the 346 shared by Don Bradman and Jack Fingleton, also at Melbourne almost exactly 70 years ago, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation had been sent a document.

This was no more and no less a list of all Australia's batsmen in the match with handy hints on how to get them out. Hence to Hayden, it had such tips as: "Bumper [caught hooking, leg stump], dot balls [ego]." And to Symonds: "No feet early [lbw and caught driving], bouncer essential."

There was more, lots more, all contained on a colour-coded A4 sheet. Within minutes of the ABC telling its listeners, the England and Wales Cricket Board men visited the ABC press box with the air of bailiffs leaning on a bankrupt. Investigations were still under way at the close of play and deep into the Melbourne night.

The ECB said, while keeping a face straighter than any of England's batsman had exhibited the day before, that Victorian state police might be involved as well as the International Cricket Council. "We don't know at this stage if the document was taken from our dressing room or another part of the ground," an ECB spokesman said. "We're also talking to Cricket Australia about it who are as disappointed as we are."

Disappointed was one possible reaction. Another was laughing until you were fit to burst. Matthew Hoggard could hardly contain himself. He opined that the investigators would include Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Morse and Miss Marple. "I just close my eyes and wang it down so there's not much planning in that." After close interrogation he suggested that your correspondent join the inquiry.

The favoured scenario is that the document (apparently you get the No 11 Glenn McGrath out with an early bumper and a slower ball) was dropped on the ground and picked up. The ECB insists, however, that the dropped version must have been purloined in the first place, a point it will no doubt make to the detectives.

Of course, if it should be discovered that the dossier was taken from England's dressing room, other questions arise. The first is why nothing else disappeared, the second is what England's vaunted security men - there are three on full-time duty - were doing.

All sorts of theories were being bandied about. Could Reg Dickason, the head security wallah, who once did the same job for Australia, be a double agent? Well, no, don't be daft, but the ECB will leave no kitbag unturned.

The man who found the document on the first day was Nick Ruthry, who said: "I found it on the ground in the members' area. My friends and I wondered if it was genuine and spent the rest of the day waiting for Australia to bat so we could spot if the field placings were as on the paper. They were. We heard the ACB were wondering what England's plans were so gave them some help."

Out on the pitch Hayden and Symonds, close friends from Queensland, became the first pair to share a partnership of 279 in which both men had purple grips on their bat handles. The colour is to denote breast cancer awareness. Every run that the pair scored was worth A$20 (£8) and every boundary A$100. That made it worth A$9,240 to the charity and gold to the Australian cricket team.

On the subject of stolen plans Hayden revealed: "What I know about Test cricket is that it's not rocket science. Generally speaking, hit the top of the stump."

Hoggard, asked if England would try to acquire Australia's plans, said: "They wouldn't do us any good." They were the truest statements in the inquiry so far.

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