To save their Ashes dreams from turning to dust today, England need heroes. They require the qualities that go into making heroes as well – guts, inspiration, discipline, knowledge, awareness, tenacity – all of which have been in desperately short supply so far during four wretched days.
The hope will probably be forlorn because Australia were in rampant mood last night and have become more dominant as each hour of the First npower Test has passed. A bold declaration by Ricky Ponting was followed by an early, inevitable clatter of England wickets. The long-awaited rain in Cardiff delayed proceedings but by then Australia, having made their highest total against England since 1934, were 219 ahead and needed eight more wickets.
Andrew Strauss is in his first Ashes Test as England's captain and will need all his calmness and studied approach to try to reverse matters today and in the next six weeks. He looked annoyed, frustrated and surprised by turns yesterday.
It has become shockingly clear that only one side, Australia, were ready for the challenges that this series could bring. Each day, almost each session, has brought fresh evidence that England are bereft in almost all departments and if they have to go to Lord's on Thursday 1-0 down nobody would give a sniff for their chances of levelling matters.
Not only would they be down and damaged by what has been inflicted on them in Cardiff but by the grotesque record against Australia at Lord's. England have not won there in 18 attempts since 1934 and have lost nine times. Other unwelcome records were set at the world's newest Test match ground yesterday as Australia ran England ragged.
The tourists lost only one wicket throughout the day which ended the exemplary sixth-wicket partnership of 200 between Marcus North and Brad Haddin, who both made centuries in their maiden Ashes Tests. The 674 for 6 declared to which they took their side was their fourth highest innings in all against England. Never in their great days of recent vintage did they make so many and only when Don Bradman was around did they make more. Four Australians scored hundreds, something that had never been done in a single innings against England in 886 Tests. North and Haddin became the 15th and 16th Australians to reach three figures in their first Test match against England, the second pair to do it in the same innings after Damien Martyn and Adam Gilchrist at Edgbaston in 2001.
England did not make enough runs in their first innings, a fact which looked plain as batsmen got in only to get out on Wednesday, after which their bowlers could only perform with increasing haplessness as Australia batted with wonderful application in reply. The difference was startling.
Australia put an extremely high price on their wickets, but to England's batsmen they might as well have been as cheap as chips. The 435 they scored against bowling which was not the equivalent of what Australia had in halcyon recent days could and should have been nearer 550 which would have insured them against defeat. Only when Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood were together sharing a partnership of 138 did England look as though they were controlling the rhythm of the game. Both were dismissed when they ought not to have been, with Pietersen's sweep from outside off stump inexcusable.
When England took the field yesterday morning they needed to make swift incisions. Far from putting Australia under sustained pressure, though, they allowed them to increase their lead almost at will. The first ball of the day typified England's lack of preparation, an inswinger going down the leg side which was comfortably glanced for four. They picked two spinners for this match – and it is difficult to see them doing that again in a hurry – yet with the innings more than 140 overs old, Strauss did not ask Graeme Swann or Monty Panesar to bowl for an hour. It looked a mistake.
North, hardly more than a journeyman county batsman until last winter, and Haddin, who has the doubtful honour of following Gilchrist as Australia's wicketkeeper batsman, were extraordinary and both were measured in their approach. Yet the bowling must have been bitterly disappointing to Andy Flower, England's coach. Stuart Broad has been the least threatening and most wayward but Jimmy Anderson rarely looked as though he would have a profound influence on proceedings.
Swann, paradoxically nervous for one so normally confident on previous days, was better in line yesterday but, worryingly, he was never a real threat and he went wicketless. As for Andrew Flintoff, he must take the new ball in future but somehow he has to find a way of taking more wickets.
England must have felt that they were being put out of their misery when Ponting called in his players as soon as Haddin was out to his 151st ball, well caught at midwicket by Ravi Bopara. He could have chosen to grind England further into the Welsh soil but he sensed perhaps that the weather was drawing in and that here was an opportunity to make inroads.
How his men responded. Ponting could be seen on the boundary as his team went out, a steely glint in his eye imploring them onwards to glory. The pitch did not seem to be offering much but the Australians were full of belief by now and England simply were not.
In the fifth over, Mitchell Johnson bowled a straight fast ball at Alastair Cook which he played at with a crooked bat, attempting to push it to leg. Aleem Dar's finger shot up. In came Bopara, exuding nervous energy, and seven balls later he was out also leg before with Billy Doctrove challenging Dar for being the fastest finger in Wales.
The decision, with the ball clearly too high, was a poor one, at odds with Doctrove's previous reluctance to uphold lbw appeals, but that could not alter the fact that Bopara too played across the line. These blows were cruel if not terminal but such defective play cannot be repeated today because there may be no coming back. The Ashes are already at stake.
England won toss
England – First innings 435
(K P Pietersen 69, P D Collingwood 64, M J Prior 56)
Australia – First innings (Overnight: 479-5)
P J Hughes c Prior b Flintoff (61 min, 54 balls, 5 fours) 36
S M Katich lbw b Anderson (327 min, 261 balls, 12 fours) 122
*R T Ponting b Panesar (315 min, 224 balls, 15 fours, 1 six) 150
M E K Hussey c Prior b Anderson (28 min, 16 balls) 3
M J Clarke c Prior b Broad (185 min, 145 balls, 9 fours, 1 six) 83
M J North not out (363 min, 242 balls, 13 fours) 125
†B J Haddin c Bopara b Collingwood (198 min, 151 balls, 11 fours, 3 sixes) 121
Extras: (b9 lb14 w4 nb7) 34
Total: (6 wkts dec, 741 min, 181 overs) 674
Fall: 1-60 (Hughes), 2-299 (Katich), 3-325 (Hussey), 4-331 (Ponting), 5-474 (Clarke), 6-674 (Haddin).
Did not bat: M G Johnson, N M Hauritz, P M Siddle, B W Hilfenhaus.
Bowling: J M Anderson 32-6-110-2 (w1), S C J Broad 32-6-129-1 (w2), G P Swann 38-8-131-0, A Flintoff 35-3-128-1 (nb7 w1), M S Panesar 35-4-115-1, P D Collingwood 9-0-38-1.
North 100: 290 min, 206 balls, 12 fours.
Haddin 50: 129 min, 90 balls, 6 fours. 100: 185 min, 138 balls, 9 fours, 2 sixes.
England – Second innings
*A J Strauss not out (33 min, 20 balls) 6
A N Cook lbw b Johnson (19 min, 12 balls, 1 four) 6
R S Bopara lbw b Hilfenhaus (5 min, 3 balls) 1
K P Pietersen not out (7 min, 9 balls) 3
Extras: (w1 nb3) 4
Total: (2 wkts, 33 min, 7 overs) 20
Fall: 1-13 (Cook), 2-17 (Bopara).
To bat: P D Collingwood, †M J Prior, A Flintoff, S C J Broad, G P Swann, J M Anderson, M S Panesar.
Bowling: M G Johnson 4-0-11-1 (nb1 w1), B W Hilfenhaus 3-0-9-1.
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and B R Doctrove (WI).
Third umpire: R A Kettleborough.
Match referee: J J Crowe (NZ).
11.00: The doom-mongers predict a total washout but play starts on time with Australia 479 for 5 and James Anderson bowling.
11.23: Australia cruise to 502 for 5 with trouble-free batting from Brad Haddin and Marcus North.
12.48: The fact that England haven't bowled well is highlighted by the decision to take a third new ball – Anderson and Andrew Flintoff share it.
12.55: Marcus North reaches 100, his second Test century in his first Ashes match.
13.00: Australia enjoy their lunch on 577 for 5.
14.01: Super six from Haddin takes the Aussies past the 600 mark.
14.37: Haddin shows his delight after reaching his century, making it the first time in Ashes history that four Australians had scored a hundred in one innings.
14.56: Australia finally declare on 674 for 6 after Haddin is eventually caught on the boundary by Ravi Bopara off Paul Collingwood's bowling for 121.
15.06: England's turn to bat – they are just the 239 runs behind.
15.27: The first hammer blow. Alastair Cook is trapped in front by Mitchell Johnson for six.
15.35: There goes another. Bopara is given out lbw for one but Billy Doctrove's decision is a shocker – the ball was clearing the stumps. Ben Hilfenhaus doesn't care about that though.
15.41: England take tea at 20 for 2... and then the long-awaited rain finally starts to fall.
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