Headless run chase throws away series triumph

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The Independent Online

After a winter of solid achievement by England, this was a strange way in which to end a series. The tourists were one Test match up in this three-match series and overall victory would have kept them in the top half of the World Championship of Test cricket. Defeat and a drawn series will not have been any help at all.

If the pitch had held up and they had got away to a good start, a genuine pursuit of a target of 312 to win might have become a realistic option. But right at the start of the day, Daryl Tuffey made a ball rear up off a length and hit Michael Vaughan, who was playing forward, on the right shoulder.

Only three times in their history have England scored more than 300 runs in the fourth innings to win a Test match. Even on a blameless surface it was likely to be beyond them but, on one which early on was seen to be behaving with some extravagance, victory on this last day was never a viable proposition.

The England batsmen started off as though it was simply going to be a matter of whether they won before tea or soon afterwards. Scorching drives were followed by searing square cuts and resounding hooks. In the first hour and a half of the day runs came at a furious rate.

The downside was that wickets fell. Marcus Trescothick was late in deciding to play a no-stroke and deflected the ball into his stumps. Vaughan played an airy drive off the back foot which was comfortably caught at slip and Mark Butcher had one that popped off a length. Then, in a couple of overs, Graham Thorpe was caught behind and Andrew Flintoff bowled and England were five wickets down and not even halfway. After that, it was just a matter of time.

England's management and organisation has been much praised and the combination of coach, Duncan Fletcher, and captain, Nasser Hussain, regarded as the saviours of England's cricket. But where were they now? Hussain was out in the middle scoring a splendid 82 and hitting a series of resonant boundaries, while Fletcher was presumably sitting in the pavilion rubbing his hands.

What nonsense it all was. It may have provided grand excitement, but you would never have found an Australian side playing like this in similar circumstances. Very early on in the proceedings they would have realised that the day's work was about avoiding defeat and have rolled up their sleeves accordingly.

But England regarded the Gadarene swine as their role models and apparently no one on high instructed the batsmen to alter their approach. It is commendable to provide entertainment, but the essential truth must be that, when victory becomes impossible, the job then is to put everything into avoiding defeat. It was here that England were found wanting, most of all because there was no guiding hand at the right time.