Self-inflicted wounds add to Ponting's early gloom

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The Independent Online

Sometimes it is better to be a football manager. A day of two halves was placed before an unusually restrained crowd at Trent Bridge. Mere words hardly suffice to convey the inadequacy of Australia's performance until tea. No sooner had antipodean newspapers passed their final deadlines, though, than signs of life were unexpectedly detected in an apparently deceased touring team. Inspired by Shaun Tait and assisted by contemporary fields, the tourists renewed their challenge.

Before lunch the Australians were awful. Put it this way. England's openers added 105 runs without much difficulty and no one was surprised. On a first day pitch, the cream of Australian bowling failed to make an impression. Two slips and a gully after 10 overs. Before long Australia supporters were saying "Maybe we can get a draw." A draw?! Against the Poms?! It has, indeed, come to that.

Some of the wounds were self-inflicted. Fourteen no-balls in the first 20 overs is not good enough from a schoolboy side let alone an international outfit. Nor is Ricky Ponting having much luck. Nottingham had provided an amiable pitch and his pace attack had been reduced to its bare essentials. He needed to win the toss. Australia's task became considerably harder from the moment one of several thousand retired cricketers parading on the field before play turned towards the home captain. Cricket has a nasty habit of kicking a struggling team. England know the feeling. It has been happening to them for years.

Australia's opening bowlers were every bit as unthreatening as their captain must have feared. A reserve a month ago, Brett Lee found himself leading the attack. At times he is torn between bowling as fast as he can and trying to swing the ball. He is predominantly a fast bowler who needs to rough batsmen up. Without the physical element his bowling can appear mild. Confidence is the secret to his game. Given responsibility, he sometimes tightens up. Scared of making mistakes, he sends down respectable deliveries as opposed to thunderbolts. Respectability is all very well, in the right place.

Lee's first spell was tidy enough without creating much sense of danger. No buzz went around the ground as he ran in to bowl, none of the hostility that has accompanied Australia's fastest and most villainous bowlers to the crease. Nor was Michael Kasprowicz exactly explosive. He has become a workhorse. Nothing wrong with that, but it is hardly going to spread fear in the opposing camp. Apart from the no-balls, his second spell was a vast improvement. Dark skies helped. A bad drop denied him a hard-earned scalp.

Shaun Tait made a nervous start. Rather than charging to the crease, he picked his way forward like a countess through a cow paddock. That is not his way. Like Fidel Edwards, of West Indies, he has a slingy action and can only bowl flat out. Despite his inhibitions, though, he bowled fast enough to attract the attention of the most tolerant traffic cop. His second spell was another matter. A man capable of swinging the ball in either direction at pace can never be discounted. But the outfield was too lush to encourage reverse swing.

Almost inevitably, Warne was bowling before lunch He took a wicket but needed a little help from his friends. He has bowled artfully and batted gamely but cannot beat capable opponents on his own. Michael Clarke fielded brilliantly and, alongside Tait, pointed the way forward. As the Bard observed, "ripeness is all." Alas, the youthful cupboard is poorly stocked.

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