Pratt runs into Ponting's bad books

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The Independent Online

For it was Pratt, on the field as substitute, who had single-handedly dismissed the man who saved the Third Test for Australia, and who had seemed capable of causing England great anxiety all over again as he moved steadily past his half-century.

Ponting himself was incandescent. He looked up at the England dressing room and you did not need to be a skilled lip reader to realise that he had aimed two expletives - one begining with "f" and the other with "c" - at the England dressing room. He was furious because he was the victim of a substitute fielder. He would have had even more to say a couple of overs later when the PA announcer told us that England's second substitute fielder was Trevor Penney, the 37-year-old Zimbabwean, who is one of the best fielders in the county Championship.

He came on for Steve Harmison, and went off within the eight-minute limit. The ICC's Test Match Playing Conditions state that, after eight minutes off a bowler may not bowl again until he has been back on the field for the same length of time that he was off it. But Pratt was a substitute for Simon Jones, who, after a marvellous morning's work, was worried about his ankle. Jones came back for a few overs after lunch before disappearing to hospital for a scan.

Because Jones was suffering from an internal injury, Pratt's presence was entirely legitimate, but the real reason he was there was that Stephen Peters of Worcestershire, England's substitute fielder in Australia's second innings at the Old Trafford, had failed to hit the stumps when Brett Lee was miles out of his crease. And Lee was one of the saviours of the game.

After Old Trafford, the England management evidently decided that this was a chance too far. Next time, the substitute would be a more skilled man, and he would have back-up. Penney's name surfaced after Old Trafford, but Pratt was clearly the main man.

He will be a long footnote in the history of this riveting npower Ashes series - the 23-year-old from Bishop Auckland who had had a good year in 2003, but frankly had not come on. He has not played a Championship game this summer, which left him free to attend to England's needs.

Ponting was furious because he feels that England have been far too free with their use of substitutes, during this series, and when Vaughan told the umpires that Penney was one of his potential substitutes, Ponting might well have smelled a rat.

But it is axiomatic that, when a team is in decline, it is an accumulation of small errors and misfortunes that contribute to a significant defeat. Pratt will go down in Australian cricket history as a misfortune.

But England would have preferred not to have either substitute on the field at all. They had replaced Jones and Harmison, two members of England's fast bowlers who hunt together in a pack, as equals. Adam Gilchrist said that he has never come across anything so effective.

The pack is completed by the presence of Jones who took 4 for 22 yesterday morning and 5 for 44 in the innings. At the end of that innings, he was England's leading wicket taker with 18, though Flintoff overtook him with two wickets in the afternoon.

Much though Ponting might despair at the method of his dismissal, the fact is that the pack was hunting less effectively with one member absent. Given the choice, Vaughan would have preferred to have Jones fit rather than Pratt accurate.