Spectre of Ashes whitewash looms over England

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The Independent Online

Not even Don Bradman's 1948 Invincibles managed a 5-0 Ashes whitewash, but that dreaded prospect is looming for English cricket after Australia wrapped up the second Test before lunch on the fourth day here yesterday.

The eight-wicket win, which follows a victory by an innings and 118 runs at Edgbaston in the first Test, left England needing to make history to regain the Ashes because they have never overturned a 2-0 deficit in the 125-year-old rivalry. Even the more feasible target of avoiding becoming the first team to lose a home Ashes series 5-0, seemed optimistic when their remaining six wickets fell for 64 runs in 13 overs.

That Australia, requiring 14 runs to win, lost two wickets in doing so was little consolation for another large crowd which was left searching for alternative entertainment by 12.30pm. England's misery could deepen today when their leading batsman, Graham Thorpe, visits a specialist to ascertain whether he has broken a finger. Thorpe, who was hurt batting against Brett Lee on Saturday, had an inconclusive X-ray yesterday.

''It will be a big disappointment if he is out,'' said Duncan Fletcher, the England coach. ''We need him in the side. He is so experienced.''

England are already without Michael Vaughan, who is recovering from a knee operation, but could have Nasser Hussain, who broke a finger in the first Test, back for the third at Trent Bridge on Thursday week.

Michael Atherton, who deputised as captain at Lord's, said he would continue if asked but that he hoped Hussain would be back.

''We are very disappointed. Australia played much better cricket,'' said Atherton. ''We have got to try and do better in all aspects of the game. But we should not get too despondent. We played poorly but still had small windows of opportunity.''

Steve Waugh, his Australian counterpart, offered hope when he insisted: ''The Tests have been closer than the results show. If England had held on to their chances it could have been a different game.''

His real feelings emerged, however, when in response to the question: ''The opportunity had been there for England to post a target. What do you think might have been quite tricky?'' he responded: "Is that a serious question?''

After a promising start yesterday any hope of England making a decent score disappeared when they lost four wickets for five runs in 16 balls. Jason Gillespie finished with 5 for 53 while Mark Waugh concluded the innings with his 158th catch in Test cricket, a world record.

It could have been worse for the England and Wales Cricket Board. Had rain, and Saturday's partnership between Mark Butcher and Mark Ramprakash, not pushed play into a fourth day, spectators would have received a full refund costing £750,000. Instead, spectators who paid from £24 to £48 for yesterday's truncated play have been guaranteed tickets at a 50 per cent discount for the fourth day of a Lord's Test next summer.

There is a choice of Sri Lanka or India and, despite yesterday's disappointment, there will clearly be some takers. But as one cautious fan said as he headed for the pub: "We should go for Sri Lanka in May. It's more likely to rain then so it might last until the Sunday."