Peter Roebuck at the WACA: Willow-wielders lose way off beaten track

'The coach's refusal to drop his favourites must cost him his job'
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The Independent Online

England's batsmen have thrown away the ground gained on the opening day. Monty Panesar and chums were entitled to expect their team-mates to back up their efforts with staunch batting. Instead the batsmen played without enough application and it was left to Kevin Pietersen to preserve hope.

Anyone glancing at the scorecard could be forgiven for regarding the pitch at the WACA ground as a rogue. In fact, it has merely provided the setting for a fair contest between bat and ball. Any willow-wielder with an organised game and stoical outlook could have collected notches without constantly fearing for his occupation. Certainly the conditions have been testing, but batsmen cannot always expect to take guard on beaten tracks.

Pitches of this sort force batsmen to choose their shots carefully and to play them correctly. Seasoned campaigners spend their first minutes at the crease working out a plan. Adapting to conditions is part and parcel of the craft. Unfortunately, England's batsmen made no allowances for a surface that was livelier than expected. None of them let enough deliveries outside off-stump to pass. Instead they swished away from their bodies.

Paul Collingwood tried to force square of the wicket and was taken at gully. A cricketer of immense determination, he has a limited range of strokes. His work off his pads is admirable but his cover drives are hit in front of the body and with more bottom hand than leading shoulder. Inevitably power and control are lost. Hereafter Australia will not give him much to hit on the leg-side.

Andrew Strauss may have been unlucky as he flashed at a wide ball - his partner thought so but his opponents disagreed - but it was a loose stroke played at an unthreatening delivery. Nor was it a half-volley. Repeatedly the batsman tried to take the ball on the rise, a dangerous manoeuvre on this sort of surface.

Andrew Flintoff lasted long enough to unfurl a couple of booming drives but he also nibbled at several lifters that did not require his attention. His backfoot game appears fragile. He has an orthodox technique untouched by brilliance and relies more on power and courage than expertise. On this evidence the Lancastrian is not a fully fledged Test batsman. His status as a mighty figure is not in doubt.

Alas, the England gloveman Geraint Jones had as bad a time as his counterpart, predictably slicing a drive to gully. The coach's refusal to drop his favourites must cost him his job. Saj Mahmood looks too flighty for this company. Meanwhile Pietersen continued to plunder. Until joined by the tail-enders he was in complete command. His game is built on strength and intelligence. He drove clinically and even his apparent excesses are well calculated. Australia stopped trying to get him out.

England's last-wicket pair played with gusto to take their team past 200. Hereabouts the Australians lost their way. But it was too late. England had missed their chance.