Nonsense is not the stuff of serious challengers

No serious challenger can afford the sort of nonsense produced by England after tea on this second day. Until a foolish shot by Michael Clarke let them back in the match, England were on their knees. To their credit the hosts promptly struck again by removing the young tyro's partner, and then took two more wickets, which brought them back into the match.

Until then England had endured a rotten last session. Their deterioration could not have been foreseen. It's been a long time since Australia was made to work as hard for its runs as it was from lunch to tea. Another wicket and England was back in the contest. Another 30 runs and the Australians were in charge. Twice the visitors edged away only to be pegged back. Hardly a stroke was played in front of the wicket. Successive batsmen were forced to protect their bodies and wickets.

It was proper Test match cricket and it's been missed. Cricket's two strongest teams were standing toe to toe. Finally the decisive moment came as Clarke was dropped. It was not a good idea. Clarke bats with correct technique and a wonderfully free spirit. His first Test innings in Chennai was an extraordinary mixture of calculation and exhilaration.

Suddenly the Australians broke out. Suddenly batting did not look difficult or the bowling menacing. Australia had been sorely tested. Used to demolishing opponents with flashing blades, the batsmen were forced to seek shelter behind shields. Bowling with pace and hostility, and not much luck, the English foursome were formidable. Later they looked as dangerous as a string quartet. Suffering a lapse, Matthew Hayden edged a pull on to his stumps.

Ricky Ponting's end was tame, a back-foot drive held at point. Clarke drove without due care and attention but was spared. The contest hung by a thread.

Amongst the home pacemen, Simon Jones caught the eye. Operating from the Nursery End, he bowled fastish outswingers that regularly beat the outside edge. Batsman groped like teenagers on a Saturday night (or any other night if the latest statistics are to be believed). Alas, he had less luck than Dylan Thomas in the pub with no beer. Down the slope, he was not as dangerous. Steve Harmison was sporadically effective but omitted to change his length as the pitch slowed. Everything was in fast forward on that epic first day - even the patch of grass prepared for the contest.

On the evidence presented so far England have a competitive pace attack. The rest of the team is the worry. Ashley Giles could not contain, let alone disturb, his opponents. Earlier in the day, his counterpart had bowled beautifully. England's batting seems to rely upon Andrew Strauss's ability to take the shine off the ball.

It is not enough. Michael Vaughan's side lost its way and can expect to pay for it. Bad bowling, fielding and tactics imperiled their position. For too long after tea they looked a beaten side. A poor shot let them back into the match. To be fair they took their chance with both hands. But the revival had been a long time coming.

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