England face defeat after Waugh assault

England 294 Australia 332-4;

Hussain's men fail to build on Gough's early breakthrough and face uphill struggle to avoid falling behind in Ashes
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The Independent Online

You cannot enter an Australian Waugh zone with anything less than a willing body and a clear mind. On a muggy overcast day, England went in with the first, but not the second, and paid a harsh penalty, as Steve Waugh added yet another Test century to the impressive roster of winning positions the Australian captain has set up during his distinguished career.

With Waugh using the occasion to conduct the important business of setting up a winning position, and rain confining play after tea to just two balls, the frenetic tempo of the first day was slowed. Mind you, Darren Gough's dismissal of Michael Slater with his first ball of the morning, was almost certainly a contributing factor.

Yet, if that early strike was a minor triumph, the portents for England escaping with something less traumatic than defeat, are looking distinctly unlikely. This was Waugh's ninth hundred as captain and only the efforts of Brian Lara at his most sublime (twice in the West Indies) and Vangipurappu Laxman (recently in Calcutta) have turned those efforts into defeat. As England possess no one in their class to lead a sustained counter-attack, a 0-1 scoreline looms.

Waugh, who followed a 133-run partnership with his out-of-sorts twin Mark, with an unbeaten stand of 63 with Damien Martyn, was at his defiant best, passing 9,000 Test runs when he had scored 35. Only two men, Allan Border (11,174) and Sunil Gavaskar (10,122), have scored more, and Waugh, with his keen eye for being part of history, will have at least Gavaskar in his sights.

A cussed man, who has sorted out more crises in his time than Henry Kissinger, Waugh's hunger for the challenge remains undimmed though England's bowlers, especially in the first session of play, eased his passage with a tepid performance. Unless over-endowed with match-winners, you cannot risk a bad half-hour against these Australians, let alone a session.

In bespoke conditions for seam and swing bowling, and therefore demanding of a consistent line and length, the ball was banged in too short too often. An assassin when conditions suit, Andy Caddick was particularly culpable, though the coach, Duncan Fletcher, must share some of the blame.

Central contracts have been a boon for resting players, but they cannot get them in the groove. Caddick is a rhythm bowler who needs to get overs under his belt and not just in the nets. Under Fletcher's regimen, he has not bowled in the middle since England's last one-day match a fortnight ago on 21 June.

Caddick's mind is also easily got at, though his heroics with the bat should have made him immune to Australian mind games. But if the best fast bowlers wear their grudges lightly, Caddick allows them to niggle away and he wasted far too much energy bouncing the ball at Steve Waugh's head and not enough time drawing him or his brother forward on off stump. When chances were offered, as Mark Waugh did either side of lunch, they were not taken.

It was not solely the bowlers' fault and, with a mind like a steel trap, the Australian captain has long been doing to opponents what Uri Geller does to cutlery – bending them to order. Carrying the red rag that has been a fixture in his hip pocket since his two hundreds at Old Trafford four years ago, Waugh simply wore England down with will-power and a batting technique, which, if giving the impression of fallibility, actually lets through far less than the immigration officers at Sydney airport.

Unlike his brother, he is not pretty to watch, but no one can begrudge him praise for coming up with the goods, as he does time and again. Like his counterpart, Nasser Hussain, Waugh plays to the off side with the face of his bat open. What differs is the lateness with which he strikes the ball, waiting until it is beneath his eyeline before making contact. Having also eschewed the pull and hook he almost never hits the ball in the air, which significantly reduces the ways one can be out.

His arrival at the crease, joining Mark, came in the second over of the day after Gough had splayed Slater's stumps with one that nipped back sharply through the gate.

Slater, in danger of spontaneously combusting the previous evening, so sparkling was his strokeplay, tried to continue where he left off by driving on the up. Unfortunately for him, Gough's loosener found a combination of length and seam movement that both he and his colleagues found elusive for most of the day.

When chances were created, as when Craig White forced Mark Waugh to edge to Marcus Trescothick at second slip, and when the same batsmen played over one from Ashley Giles, they were allowed to go begging. Although neither proved particularly expensive, they cost England some much needed mental buoyancy. The stumping Alec Stewart fluffed was a shocker.

Having scratched about for most of his 49 runs – there were a couple of trademark sashays as well as the odd silky shot – Mark Waugh fell to Caddick, edging a lifter to Stewart. Yet if England sensed a window of opportunity, it was slammed shut by Martyn, who immediately matched his partner's grit and tempo.

With two like-minded players at the crease, England's task today will depend on how they use the second new ball. Waste it as they did yesterday, and Australia will bury them beneath an avalanche of runs.

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