Waugh's men make the most of their luck

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The Independent Online

Sod's law ordained, Australia won the toss, and it continued to exert its influence through the morning's play. England might have had four wickets before lunch, and would have had one were it not for umpire Peter Willey's distorted view of a leg-before decision.

Luck seldom favours the underdog, but after the joy of Headingley we were none of us quite certain who the underdog was at The Oval.

Steve Waugh, happily restored to health, chose to play – a sure statement of the gravity of Headingley as far as the Australians were concerned. After he had inevitably won the toss, it was Matthew Hayden, with Justin Langer – instead of the disposed Michael Slater – who took strike.

They should have been quivering in their boots, but because of their Australian confidence, and zest for life and for batting, they were not.

They rode their early luck and took control. Luck so often favours the big battalion and in this series Australia have been brigades larger than England. In the first two hours they had the better of four questions that might have been answered the other way.

Hayden had not got off the mark and was facing Darren Gough. The ball came into him and flicked the inside edge. Alec Stewart went sideways and took the ball in his right hand fractionally after it had hit the surface. Alan Knott, of blessed memory, would have made no such mistake. He would have swallowed it.

A wicketkeeper who can bat, which is what they are trying to turn Stewart into, is a much better bet than a batsman who can keep wicket, which is what he has always been.

When Hayden was four, he pushed Gough to Usman Afzaal at short leg and set off. He was two yards up the wicket when Afzaal threw and missed. He only had a stump-and-a-half to aim at, and I wonder if Hayden himself, Langer, Katich or whoever would have missed.

Langer was 12 when he pushed at Gough from the crease and edged to the right of Mark Butcher, at second slip, who swooped and picked up the ball on the half-volley. What would Mark Waugh have done?

Then we come to Willey. When play resumed after a short rain-break, Hayden pushed from the crease at Andy Caddick and the ball hit the right pad. Willey was right: it would have missed the leg stump and the off stump, but my goodness it would have hit the middle. He deserves to be haunted by the replay.

Luck is the indefinable. Gary Player, when confronted by the power of luck, said: "It's a funny thing, but the harder I practice, the luckier I get.''

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