Brainless sledging spurs old warrior into action

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The Independent Online

Long before lunch on the third day of the final Test it was necessary to go through the old routine. Shortly after tea the procedure was required again. This involved the ritual, performed almost daily since 23 November in Brisbane, of checking if there was a different way of saying that England are spineless.

Once more yesterday, they demonstrated their ineptitude at the chief elements of the game, and they added another felony. They were brainless as well as spineless.

In the morning, Australia, from a position of 325 for 8, were allowed to add, much as they liked, 68 runs for the ninth wicket. It was typical that Shane Warne, the twinkle-eyed old warrior himself, should give the knife one final twist.

In the afternoon, England lost five wickets more or less without blinking. They succumbed to uniformly excellent bowling but they succumbed all right, as certainly as females to James Bonds, from Sean Connery to the new bloke.

The idiotic nature of their play, as if to confirm that the Australians are winning in every way imaginable, came during Warne's prolonged cameo of 71. It was his 12th 50 and the sixth-highest of his 199 Test innings. He came in and immediately swept a four and clubbed a six over midwicket from his first two balls.

As he explained: "I was pretty pumped up when I first went out. I'm normally a dreadful starter, so I had a couple of Red Bulls and I was buzzing. Four, six and I thought, 'Here we go'."

In the same over as the initial boundaries, however, he may (or may not) have gloved a delivery from Monty Panesar to wicketkeeper Chris Read. England were convinced, the umpire Aleem Dar was not. The tourists were aggrieved and, with Paul Collingwood to the fore, they let Warne know of their displeasure.

This was a pretty silly tactic. The true art of sledging is knowing when not to speak. Collingwood went in with adenoids virtually on full view. He had done likewise at Adelaide - the insults merely served to energise Warne.

Instead of learning from this, Collingwood decided to repeat the treatment and the upshot was disastrous for the tourists. The ninth-wicket pair added 68 runs and Australia's lead, rather than slender, was 102. England had every reason to be disappointed - again. But in another barnstorming chat to reporters at the close - possibly his last as a player - Warne lent some perspective.

"A lot of people have said that England have played poor cricket this summer," he said. "I don't actually agree with that. I think they have played some excellent cricket at times. But this is as good a cricket as the Australian team have played since I have been playing.

"Our fast bowlers have been excellent and as a group we have bowled exceptionally well. We haven't allowed them to score. I think Australia have been sensational and deserve to be in the position they are in."