Workhorse's hard yakka pays off

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The Independent Online

As the ball exploded from Ricky Ponting's bat towards England's square leg yesterday there was just time to offer a sigh of relief. Positioned there, standing stoically, ready to take the catch, remove Australia's most menacing batsman and perhaps alter the course of the Ashes as if making the nearby River Torrens itself change direction, was Ashley Giles.

Giles has a pair of hands in the deep which are as solid as an Adelaide church. No worries, as they say in these parts. The relief was drawn from the perspicacity of the England selectors in picking good old Ash instead of Monty Panesar. Imagine if Monty had been under that. And then it was as if Giles turned into Panesar before our eyes. He mis-timed his jump, fluffed the catch as his hands came together crossed as if applauding the shot instead of making the batsman pay for it. Horror of horrors. Ponting, on 35, had escaped. He added another 107 runs.

It was Matthew Hoggard who removed him as it had been Hoggard who had the catch dropped. No bowler on earth would react as Hoggard did later. "It's disappointing to have a dropped catch but you would back Ashley to catch that 99 times out of hundred." And so you would, but imagine the opprobrium that would have been heaped on the Panesar patka had he been the one to shell it.

"If you didn't have dropped catches it would be a boring old game. It's not anything personal and I'm sure you will see another dropped catch before the end of the series." Maybe that is so, but if they keep dropping Ponting the Ashes will not be coming home. The urn will be returning, figuratively at least, to Australia, where the real thing incidentally is doing sell-out business in the big city museums on its special tour. Reflecting the evening before on how the Second Test may unfold, Kevin Pietersen had mentioned the need to hold catches and added that since he had held one it was a good sign for the rest.

Hoggard was as undismayed in action as word. He ploughed away for a large part of the day into the wind from the Cathedral End, taking two wickets at the start and two towards the end. And despite the imposing building which gives the end its name (St Peter's) he obviously had another trick up his sleeve. To ensure inspiration, Hoggard must have imagined that he was not in Adelaide but in India or Pakistan.

"It was a typical subcontinent pitch," he said. "It wasn't too bouncy and it wasn't too quick and there was slow turn in it for the spinners. You just had to sit in and be patient."

This accurate assessment brought into further disrepute the art of pitch reporting, which long since began to make tea leaf reading seem to be based solely on hard science.

Hoggard's ball to dismiss Ponting was a peach, shaping away and moving a little further off the pitch. Australia's captain paid due tribute, though conceded he should not have been batting so far out of his crease at the time. Hoggard bowled 22 overs in the day.

"Every time the captain wanted someone to bowl he threw the ball to the Ever-Ready Bunny over here," he said. It was an arresting image. It suits Hoggard. He has played 38 consecutive Tests for England and they need him to make it 41 to keep the Ashes.