England are run ragged

Fourth Test: Local debutant sets up lethal partnership that threatens t o put squared series beyond Atherton's men
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The Independent Online
AN UNBROKEN sixth-wicket partnership worth 172 between Ian Healy and the local debutant Greg Blewett has increased Australia's chances of winning this match, England's hopes of squaring the series ending after tea, when they took the second new ba ll. Coming together when the score was 232 for five, the two batsmen adopted a smash-and-grab approach that ran England ragged, big shots punctuated with stolen singles.

Blewett, very much an afterthought until the Australia A team was revamped in the New Year, owed his promotion here to his recent one-day form and the continued failure of Michael Bevan. Few creatures are allowed the luxury of blinking too long once theyemerge into the Australian sunlight, and Blewett took his chance with expectation and care, as if pocketing a longstanding debt.

At 23, he is the same age as John Crawley, yet there is not the slightest hint of self-effacement or uncertainty that sometimes afflicts young England players, especially when replacing another by default. There was nothing apologetic about his rangy presence on the field and he hardly played a false stroke in his unbeaten 91.

"I kept wishing the day hadn't ended," Blewett admitted afterwards, fearing a night of insomnia running through the possibilities and pitfalls that accompany any player nine short of a Test century. "I was definitely getting a bit excited as I got closer, thinking I could smash every ball. Luckily Heals [Healy] helped me to calm down." In fact Healy scored even more quickly than Blewett, many of his runs coming in threes and all-run fours, the shots craftily placed into the acres beyond the bowler rather than square, like those of his young charge.

Before this deadly combination had got going just after tea, England were well placed, having toiled well to have Australia five down for 235. Angus Fraser, in particular, did an excellent job for his captain, bowling unchanged for 90 minutes after lunchand taking one for 20 in 10 overs. But as has happened before on the rare occasions that England have been in the ascendancy, they once again failed to turn a promising vantage point into a match-winning position.

As he did at Sydney, Atherton got into a muddle over his tactics. There, the second new ball happened to transform England's chances after the match had looked dead. Here, it has simply put a winnable game beyond them. Instead of taking heed that both DeFreitas and Lewis, with two wickets apiece, were getting some reverse swing with the old ball, Atherton instead decided to take the new ball in the belief that an overbowled Fraser and a disappointingly wicket-shy Malcolm would finish the job off.

It was an understandable mistake to make in the circumstances and his bowlers made the error all the more palpable by being too wayward with a harder ball. Hindsight is always 20/20, but casual mistakes like these are punished when the opponents are as battle-hardened as the Aussies. Once more the old Kangaroo had been caught on the ropes with its defences down, only for a young Joey to pop up out of its pouch and counter with a sucker punch that has sent its dithering opponent back on its heels.

The day began ominously for England, with Michael Slater and Mark Taylor extending their overnight partnership of 81 to 128 before Slater was caught by Atherton at slip for 67, trying to guide DeFreitas to third man. The wicket inspired the Derbyshire seamer, who had David Boon caught by Steve Rhodes for nought, after a flat-footed prod made thin contact with a ball that left him off the pitch.

Well though England bowled, they could not prevent Mark Waugh from indulging in some languid off-side drives off both front and back foot as he and his skipper saw Australia past 200. Two runs later Chris Lewis claimed his first Test wicket of 1995, whenhe swung one into Taylor's pads from round the wicket, the angle defying the geometry of the lbw law, yet still managing to appear out on the replay. It had been a solid innings from the Australian captain, who fell 10 short of his hundred.

An over later Mark Waugh was gone as well, caught behind off a ball that bounced to find the edge of a bat uncommitted to either front or back foot. This was just reward for the persevering Fraser, whose flannels and face were both burnished crimson fromhis efforts under a hot afternoon sun.

Following his brother's lead, Steve Waugh played a scintillating cameo that saw the ball hurrying past fielders both sides of the wicket. But like his marginally younger sibling, he often gets out before the job is done, and his slash to second slip, where Atherton held a smart catch, was a carbon copy of the one before, that had sent the ball clanging into the offside boundary boards.

After that English joy quickly turned sour as the Healy and Blewett show dominated the stage. Malcolm, who earlier in the day had bowled far too short, had 11 taken off him, while Tufnell, who had only bowled 18 overs in the day, was chipped and swept with alarming regularity due to his negative tactic of bowling into the rough.

On a rare excursion around the wicket, Tufnell dropped the ball marginally short, only to see Blewett rock back and cut the ball hard out towards the cover fence. On the way to the boundary it struck a grazing seagull, appearing to kill the bird, which was later removed by John Crawley to the gutter by the boundary. Afterwards Blewett was asked if he had received calls from the RSPCA. "No," he replied, "It was just stunned. I saw it fly away." An option, unfortunately, unavailable to England until afterPerth.