The day an English dream turned to dust

Second Test - The dreaded whitewash looms as the Australian badwagon steamrolls through ragged resistance
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All England's dreams of regaining the Ashes turned to dust yesterday. Most of the ground that the team had so tenaciously gained in a year of tough campaigns was devoured by Australia. Many of the hopes that this series would be a genuine contest were rendered as so much moonshine.

It would be cruel, but accurate, to say that the match and the general direction of events slipped through England's hands, since they grounded four catches, which is at least four too many against this opposition. Partly because of that, partly because of their inadequate first-innings total, sometime today at Lord's, the home side will go 2-0 down with three to play.

Their ambition in this match now can surely extend no further than making the tourists bat again. At 51 behind with six wickets in hand that is an attainable goal, but it is hardly in the bag.

Beyond that there is still, nominally, a rubber at stake, not to mention the priceless urn that goes with it, but even now the fear of a 5-0 reversal must be forming in some minds. So long as those minds do not belong to England's players. On the present form of the two protagonists, England will be distinctly fortunate to get away with 5-0. To their credit, they were talking up their chances last night.

At one point yesterday, the side, revitalised before our very eyes only eight weeks ago were so poor that the new Test sponsors, npower, may have had their lawyers looking for a get-out clause in their deal. If nothing else can persuade them to tone down the gaudy crimson of their logos at the end of the wicket it will be a commercial desire to avoid being too easily associated with disaster.

In strictly mathematical terms, England's season is still alive and the Ashes are still within their grasp. Sadly, that is stuff and nonsense now.

In the face of the mighty adversary, England have simply crumbled, as if intimidated by reputation, talent and the knowledge that they were facing the superior side. If they did not exactly run for cover, they might as well have done and so saved a public humiliation. All the chances which went begging gave lives to Adam Gilchrist, the centurion of the First Test, who needs no second invitation to destroy attacks. On several occasions he must have been halfway through the Long Room on his way back to the dressing room when he realised that England had committed another cardinal sin.

Australia were dismissed for 401, extending their first-innings lead to 214, and England's solitary comfort was that they reduced the scoring rate to below four an over. To 3.97, to be exact. On such a day as this at Lord's, this was almost the joy of joys.

When England began their second innings there were 53 overs to survive, and considering they had batted for no more than 63.3 in any of their three innings against Australia so far in the summer, a finish in three days was not only possible but likely. With the first three wickets lost for 50 – the outstandingly important ones of the captain, Michael Atherton, Marcus Trescothick and Graham Thorpe – it entered the bounds of certainty.

That there ensued some resistance was a cause for relief, though it did not mean that Mark Ramprakash and Mark Butcher were English reincarnations of VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid, who so dramatically turned things round for India last winter when they were forced to follow on and won. Yet a partnership of 96 by members of the upper middle-order was not to be sniffed at in the present circumstances. It left about 300 more being required to make Australia break into a sweat.

Ramprakash was then given out leg before to one that he appeared to hit and that was too high. And that was another thing. Of all the bum raps being handed down, England were on the receiving end of most. It is an impossible burden to bear in addition to all the others that this formidable Australian team impose.

A similar position pertained in the early part of yesterday to that at Edgbaston in the First Test. If England could restrict the visitors to a lead of around 100 and then get a lead of around 150, anything could happen. Obviously, you had to be of optimistic bent to give credence to this theory, but what the hell, it was a theory.

As at Edgbaston, it bore no relation to reality, but this time for different reasons. The day had reached only its seventh ball when Gilchrist edged Gough low to second slip. Butcher spilled the chance. It was early in the piece and if he was not awake, yet he should have been: early in the piece is when Gilchrist is usually vulnerable. He was on 13 at the time.

Not long after he carved again at Gough high in the direction of point, where Ian Ward leapt high but not high enough to grasp a catch. That was probably forgiveable but we have all, as they say, seen them taken. Ward was definitely culpable when Gilchrist was on 33. He dived to his left and comfortably got both hands to a loose square drive. It went to ground.

It was reaching farcical proportions when on 49 Gilchrist edged again in the direction of backward point, where Butcher got fingertips to it but no more. By the time Gilchrist reached 73 it was beyond farce as Atherton dropped the sort of catch players take hundreds of times a day in practice, straight and waist-high. At that moment, Atherton must have wondered if he had done the right thing by coming to England's rescue and agreeing to captain them for the 53rd time. And he must have reached a negative conclusion.

The departures of Damien Martyn for 52 and Shane Warne were hardly compensation. The odds now on Gilchrist reaching his second successive Ashes century were short, say 100-1 on. He scored the monumental majority of a partnership of 65 with Brett Lee for the eighth wicket and was doing pretty much as he liked, thinking with eminent justification that it was his day. At last, he hooked Gough and Stewart held on to the top edge.

Remarkable.

There was time for Andrew Caddick, the best of England's bowlers, to claim his fifth wicket, his second such haul at Lord's. He was elated, presumably that the lead was under 300.

England started woefully. Trescothick edged a ball going across him and Australia made no mistake with the catch. Tough game, Test cricket. If Trescothick comes through this examination he will survive for 10 or 12 years. Atherton was then Warned. He swept at one which pitched a yard away from the stumps. It hit leg without Atherton making contact. There were some who swore they had seen Warne do that kind of thing before, and England might have learnt.

When Thorpe was given out leg before to a ball which pitched outside leg and was missing off, England knew that not only the might of Australia but also the mightier fates were against them.

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