Warne's last hurrah leaves England hung by a sorry tail
Friday 05 January 2007
A résumé of Australia and England's first-innings batting in the fifth Test would conclude that it has been a tale of two tails. Australia's wagged like an expectant Labrador waiting for his master to take it for a walk, while England's was about as much use as a Dobermann pinscher's, only it did not last for as long.
After watching Australia reach 393 in their first innings England proceeded to lose five of their top batsmen for the addition of 114 runs. The total gave Andrew Flintoff's demoralised side a lead of just 12 runs, and it is fair to say Kevin Pietersen and England's lower-order willow wielders will need to enter new territory on the fourth day if they are to avoid the ignominy of a 5-0 Ashes whitewash.
Shane Warne, predictably, played a key role in England's plight. In his final Test, Warne struck a colourful and crucial 71 before dismissing Flintoff in the penultimate over of the day.
The performance of the two teams' relative tails has been one of the many differences between these two sides. To date Australia's last five wickets have produced, on average, 47 runs each while England's have generated just 16. It means that Australia could go to bed last night believing that they were unlikely to be chasing more than 95 runs this morning.
England were reasonably placed on 245 for 4 in their first innings before Paul Collingwood edged a Glenn McGrath leg-cutter through to Gilchrist. The dismissal provoked a collapse that resulted in the visitors losing 6 for 46 and being dismissed for 291.
In reply Australia were in real danger of blowing the party to send three of the country's retiring heroes off in style when James Anderson dismissed Michael Hussey with the eighth ball of the morning. The hosts were on 190 for 5 as Gilchrist made his way to the centre of the Sydney Cricket Ground and England were fantasising about a first-innings lead. But the Australian fans need not have worried, even when Andrew Symonds was bowled for 48 having a heave across the line at Monty Panesar.
Warne was fully aware of how vulnerable England were and he attacked from the off. The first ball he faced was swept for four and the second was deposited in the crowd beyond the deep midwicket boundary. In an instant England's aspirations were nothing more than that.
Gilchrist needs little encouragement to go for his shots and the sight of Warne playing with abandon sent him into overdrive. He completed an incisive half- century off the 59th ball he faced and 40 runs were scored in four overs. Warne could have been dismissed three times before he had reached 20, but the umpire Aleem Dar failed to notice the ball clip his glove on the way through to Chris Read and England squandered two run-outs. Warne slog-swept Panesar for another six to bring up the 50-partnership but Australia's fun ended when Gilchrist was wrongly given out caught behind. Warne's dreams of an elusive Test hundred ended when he advanced down the pitch and was stumped by Read.
England's reply got off to a dreadful start when Alastair Cook top-edged the 15th ball straight up in the air.
A 93mph bouncer from Lee then felled Andrew Strauss. Lee showed no mercy to his opponent by following up with possibly his quickest ball of the series. The 95mph fizzer clipped Strauss's thigh on the way through to Gilchrist.
Strauss saw off Lee but was trapped plumb in front by the irresistible Stuart Clark. A subsequent scan revealed no damage had been caused. Ian Bell finished his tour off with an awful waft at Lee.
Paul Collingwood tried to support Pietersen and the pair rattled the Aussies. Words were exchanged between Warne and Collingwood and hopes rose. But these ended when Collingwood was caught in the gully and Warne bamboozled an England captain for the very last time.
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