England find belated streak of defiance

Jon Culley says Atherton's men have taken a leaf out of their rivals' book
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Just when it seemed they had surrendered all hope of prising the Ashes from Australia's grasp, England conspired in a display of splendid defiance in the Nottingham sunshine. Undermined though it was by Shane Warne's guile in the final session, it had made uplifting watching for a 13,500 crowd who had fully expected to see Australia bat the home side out of the match and out of the hunt.

Realists and cynics might argue that it came a day too late, that seven wickets for 116 is all well and good but of somewhat less merit when it follows 311 for 3, as Australia had been when Andrew Caddick struck the first blow of the morning.

Despite England's fightback, Australia still amassed a total of consequence, gathering runs at Thursday's 100-per-session pace regardless of the falling wickets.

But one should not carp too much. England, who could have been forgiven wilting spirits after an opening day of heavy punishment and scant good fortune, now revealed the kind of character, for which Australia's renowned resolve is the model, that the David Lloyd regime have been trying to ingrain upon England's nature.

Alec Stewart's extraordinary performance quite rightly dominates the thoughts. The longer Australia batted, the deeper became the worry that the 34-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman would not have the stamina to open the innings after almost a day and a half behind the stumps in the wilting heat.

Not only did Stewart defy the doubts, however, he gave the England innings the start it required to maintain the momentum set up by their bowlers. Attacking the Australian bowling, not least Warne, with a gusto that thrilled the home contingent, he deserved to see his boldness bring him a first century against Australia.

To dominate Warne requires a batsman to score regularly and heavily, forcing him to change his line of attack and to rethink his fields. Stewart clearly came armed with this strategy, much as he might have preferred a less demanding approach.

He was set for one of the more impressive hundreds of the summer when, to his and the crowd's profound disappointment, he finally, fatally, allowed himself one liberty too many.

If Stewart can reflect with some satisfaction on the day, then so should England's pace bowling spearhead. Dean Headley, Devon Malcolm and Andrew Caddick bowled not only with great heart but much skill to restrict Australia to a total two thirds of what had been expected.

With attention fixed on the debut-making Hollioake brothers, it was easy to forget that Headley is making only his third Test appearance. Yet the Kent man bowled yesterday in the manner of one well established at this level, his figures satisfying David Lloyd's demand for accuracy as well as wickets.

For his part, Caddick was at times inspired and deserving of better luck while Malcolm, who had greeted his recall with some barbed comments about the capriciousness of the selectors, kept his promise to prove a point with a fiery spell that, at its height, yielded the wickets of Ian Healy, Warne and, critically, Steve Waugh in the space of 20 deliveries, exposing the Australian tail for Headley to complete the job.

Against Warne, a formidable weapon even on a wicket as inherently good as this one, England will need to play exceptionally well today to deny their opponents a substantial advantage. But they should at least avoid the humbling that seemed their most predictable fate at Thursday's close.