England search for a glimmer of hope

Late wicket under floodlights at Sophia Gardens offers morale boost after Australia shine brightest
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The Independent Online

The lights went out on England in Cardiff last night but fast bowler James Anderson believes there is still more than a ray of sunshine waiting for them in the first Ashes Test of the summer.

History was made when Test cricket was played, albeit briefly, under floodlights for the first time in Britain. But two overs after the home side had made some use of a bonus 28-minute session by dismissing Australian vice-captain Michael Clarke, umpires Aleem Dar and Billy Doctrove called a halt... because of bad light.

Confused? England captain Andrew Strauss seemed to be, speaking to the two officials at some length as everyone else trooped off. But, deep down, he was probably thankful for small mercies. Clarke had made 83 when he gloved an attempted pull against Stuart Broad, having looked set to follow team-mates Simon Katich and Ricky Ponting through to centuries. Even with that late wicket, Australia finished the day on 479 for 5, already 44 runs ahead and with plenty of power to add. Marcus North will resume today on 54, having helped Clarke to add 143 for the fifth wicket and put the visitors in a position where a draw seems likely to be their worst result.

Not according to the home camp, though. "We are not thinking about a draw," said Anderson, who shone a light at the end of England's tunnel by dismissing Katich and Michael Hussey in quick succession with the second new ball – only for Clarke and North to extinguish any hope of a clatter of wickets.

"We've got a big session coming up and that will probably decide whether or not we can win the game. We'll have to work out how we are going to get those last five wickets pretty quickly."

Anderson struggled on Thursday, failing to find any swing with the first new ball, and spent 20 minutes off the field yesterday afternoon because of "light-headedness". But he insisted he felt fine after taking on fluids in the dressing room and believes England stuck at their task well. He also stressed that no one in the England party had underestimated Australia.

"A lot has been made of them not being a strong side but they have just come from a series win in South Africa and we have given them the respect they deserve. They have played well, made it hard for us but we are going to keep fighting."

Under usual circumstances, yesterday's entertainment would have been curtailed with Australia on 463 for four.

Rain, which halted play soon after 4pm, cleared away in time for a 6.15pm re-start. But, with dark clouds still over Cardiff, bad light would almost certainly have scuppered attempts to get the game moving again. Not this time, though, thanks to an agreement reached – though curiously not announced – before the series began.

Rival captains Andrew Strauss and Ponting have decided that the permanent floodlights in place at Sophia Gardens, Lord's and The Oval can be used when necessary this summer, provided the umpires are happy. So, for the first time in nearly 129 years of Test cricket in this country, play went ahead with the assistance of light bulbs.

It did not last for long, with only six overs being bowled before Dar and Doctrove called a halt when the floodlights started casting shadows as daylight faded further. And a majority of the spectators who had been among a full-house crowd of 16,000 were not there to see a 28-minute chunk of history, having assumed – reasonably enough – that there would be no more action following yesterday afternoon's interruption.

Clarke was the real loser, although Australia's vice-captain had no complaints about play resuming or the conditions while he was batting.

"The pitch is fantastic for batting and of course we wanted to get out there," he said. "I'm just disappointed to get out in the way I did. The light was OK and I've no excuse for my dismissal.

"If the rain stays away now we definitely believe we can get a result out of this game. I think the pitch will continue to spin and the bounce could become inconsistent."

As for England, they would love to have played a bit longer last night. "We would like to have stayed on because we had just taken a wicket and both Stuart and Fred [Flintoff] were bowling very well," said Anderson.