Australia took just 90 minutes to take England's last five wickets at Old Trafford yesterday. But if the execution on a dry and wearing pitch was predictable enough, the executioner was not, and Glenn McGrath, finishing with 4 for 46, gladly feasted off Shane Warne's menacing presence at the other end to send England crashing to defeat.
The margin of Australia's victory, though, is nowhere near as significant as the manner in which it was achieved. Having been surprised by England's passion at Edgbaston, Australia have raised their form and aggression here to work their game plan to perfection. Letting Warne and Co bowl last with over 400 runs on the board is a bit like taking on Superman when he has just donned his leotard.
It is a situation England will want to avoid if they are to make a contest out of the rest of this series and they now have two and a half weeks to recharge and prepare themselves for the Headingley Test on 24 July.
"The Aussies got us where they wanted us," England's skipper, Michael Atherton, admitted afterwards. "There's been a lot of talk about Warne being out of form. But he's a world class bowler and bound to come good sometime. He bowled well, as he should do on a wearing pitch."
Ironically, the craters Warne exploited in taking nine wickets in the match were created for him on the first day by England's bowlers when the pitch was damp and soft. More frustrating, however, must be the opportunities England squandered on the first two days of the match when they clearly had the better of the conditions in which to bowl and bat. Although immense credit must go to Steve Waugh's superb first-innings century (as well as his steadying one in the second innings), many in the Australian camp thought they should have been bowled out for 150 and that England, with the sap gone from the pitch, ought to have scored more than 300 in reply.
It was a sentiment echoed by Atherton. "We missed opportunities," he agreed, "and we should have done better. The Aussies bowled well in the first innings and we batted ourself into a hole. We just have to hold our hands up and admit we were beaten by the better side.
"The series is well poised at one-all with three to play. I'm confident that we can win at least one of the last three. The measure of a side is how they come back from a setback. I'm confident we can come back mentally refreshed for Headingley, ready for one hell of a scrap."
However, such fighting talk aside, Atherton must be concerned with the way his top order were again found wanting in the first innings, which is where Test matches are controlled. He says he would bet good money that there will not be any changes for the next Test at Headingley, where England will be hoping to get back to a slow, well grassed pitch that will not metamorphose as this one did.
And yet the warning bells that went off at Lord's, when McGrath sent England packing for 77, will surely need to be heeded, necessitating if not a change in personnel then at least a radical rethink over how to best score a competitive total.
One of those under pressure before this match started was John Crawley, whose form, until his 83 in the second innings, must have been under selectorial scrutiny. Picked for his nous against leg-spin, Crawley waited until Warne was at his most venomous to show his true mettle.
Like Steve Waugh, he needed luck and having been dropped in the gully on Sunday, he was reprieved once again, this time by Greg Blewett, as a rare error against Warne popped up obligingly off bat and pad. It was about the only straightforward chance Australia missed in this match.
That apart, Crawley's shot selection, so crucial against a spinner of Warne's class, was spot on as the leggie, virtually unplayable on Sunday, was regularly dispat- ched to the boundary. It was only when he faced the tall, bustling McGrath that the terminal mistake was made when, following Atherton's lead from Lord's, he trod on his stumps while playing a short ball off the back foot.
McGrath, without the help of the green grass that had aided his type on the first day, showed why he is rated one of the finest pace bowlers around. Hitting the hard dry pitch with the ferocity of a bowler looking for an afternoon off, McGrath worked his way through England's lower order, bombing out a shaky looking Robert Croft with a rib-tickler before removing Darren Gough's off-stump. At one stage he had taken 4 for 15 in 31 balls, a spell that began when Mark Ealham who, having defended stoically, had his 98 minutes of resistance ended by a superb one-handed catch by Ian Healy.
Whether batting or keeping, the Australian wicketkeeper radiates confidence to his team-mates. When he called for a helmet to keep wicket against Warne, it was a move that said: "If I think this is a minefield to keep wicket to Warney on, what's it going to be like to bat on?"
Everything about Warne seems stiff, except his spinning wrist. Of course there is more to his peerless bowling than that, which on song is as precise and co-ordinated as a Rolex wristwatch. As Mark Taylor's trump card, Warne was the sole reason for the Aussie skipper's bold decision to bat first, made apparently at the last possible moment and without prior consultation with anyone.
When they are playing well, Australia are masters of the mind game. Victory here will have bolstered that, despite the continued poor batting form of Michael Bevan and Taylor, a line of weakness which Atherton believes still makes them vulnerable. Nevertheless, with a powerful psychology now exerted by the visitors, England must now travel to Headingley in the knowledge that while the series is level, Australian potency has been fully restored.Reuse content