Prime audition time as Panesar's appeal knows no bounds

  • @stephenbrenkley

It is generally considered that England must make team changes to sustain a realistic challenge for the Ashes. Not that anybody in Australia believes much about the tourists' continued participation is realistic apart from the ability to turn up, but anything else except a different XI would be seen as reward for startling failure.

Thus, an insignificant two- day match - throwaway cricket for a throwaway society - against Western Australia has assumed the status of a full- blown trial for the Third Test, which begins at the Waca on Thursday. For the candidates, this was the last and the only audition.

Most of the attention, as usual, was on Monty Panesar (or at least the attention not on Michael Vaughan, who was playing although not a member of the touring party). Panesar's omission from the series so far has been contentious, and if his absence from the First Test in Brisbane had logic, the wisdom of overlooking him in Adelaide has hardly grown in hindsight.

His audition was a thing of desperation. Every over included at least one appeal, and the passion he imparted bordered on recklessness. His imploring was invariably prolonged - Bryn Terfel does not hold a note as well as Panesar holds an appeal - and at one point he waved his arms and then clapped in the direction of the umpire.

This delighted the large English contingent in the crowd, and if Panesar has not by now done enough to convince the selectors, there is not much point in his being here. There is a danger, however, in thinking that he is the answer to all the difficulties besetting England. He is not, though it was still rather jolly to see his only (deserved) wicket, as he turned the ball and found the edge of Luke Donchi's bat to have him caught at slip, a classic slow left-armer's dismissal.

This was not Panesar's brightest moment, which came when he threw down the stumps from short midwicket to run out Aaron Heal, a fellow left-arm spinner. Being run out by Panesar may seem like being bluffed at poker by Mr Bean, but the truth is that he is not yet quite as good a bowler as has been suggested, nor as bad a fielder.

The others vying for a leading role on Thursday performed with differing degrees of distinction. Ashley Giles, Panesar's chief rival, did not expect to play yesterday and can perhaps be excused his eight largely moderate overs. Then there were the seamers, from whom the bulk of the wickets must come if England are to beat Australia.

James Anderson, who had seemed certain to be dropped after two hapless displays that bespoke insufficient match bowling, confused the issue. His three spells each yielded a wicket, and the first, with the new ball, was positively incisive. There were shades of the Anderson it was hoped he would become. It was a wonderful audition in the circumstances, and although it may be felt that reprising it on the big stage is beyond him, he bowled like a man who craved the part.

Stephen Harmison did not. There was the occasional moment of inspiration that could not obscure fluffed lines. Harmison went for 99 in 21 overs and had to wait until his 14th for a wicket, having had a slip catch dropped by Giles early on. The unthinkable (Harmison being dropped) is possible.

Sajid Mahmood was presentable, taking two wickets, but Anderson was the best of the seamers. Chris Read, who was keeping wicket although Geraint Jones was in the side, took three catches, one of them especially notable, but missed a stumping. Three of the Western Australia side, whose official title is Retravision Warriors, made half-centuries.

When Panesar was not the focus of most binoculars it was Vaughan, playing his first game for England since February in Mumbai. He had little to do, although he took over the captaincy for an over when Andrew Strauss left the field. At one point when Andrew Flintoff, who has been given the match off, came on as substitute fielder, there was the unusual sight of the official England captain (Vaughan), the tour captain (Flintoff) and the captain of the team for the match (Strauss) all on the pitch.

Requests to speak to Vaughan to check his progress and why he was playing in the match were refused. The England and Wales Cricket Board said they were tired of the soap opera surrounding him, which was a bit rich, since they have been scripting, producing and promoting it.

Vaughan stayed in the field all day, did not put a foot wrong but looked as though he was limping by the end of it. Like England. They may have been no nearer naming a crucial Test XI but were quite possibly only nine days away from surrendering the Ashes.