Lloyd's learners hold their nerve

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The Independent Online
A Test match that was notable for performances to marvel at on the field turned into a classic game in the mind yesterday. Coach David Lloyd has worked endlessly to build in his players a fundamental self-confidence, but no one human can think positively for the whole of a contest as prolonged as a Test match. England's quest yesterday was as much to keep the demons of doubt at bay as to outplay their opponents.

In that respect, the fourth day dawned with the match entering its critical phase, the fightback led with such gallantry by Mark Taylor on Saturday having reminded an exultant nation that Australians do not take defeat lying down. Another session won by Taylor and the admirable Greg Blewett and England just might begin to wonder if, in this company, they could play superbly for two days, as they unquestionably did last Thursday and Friday, and still not win the Test.

At the outset, Australia still needed 104 runs simply to make England bat a second time but as the morning's play unfurled so the negative thoughts began to intrude, banished not even by Taylor's departure. Blewett, who looks to have solved Australia's dilemma over the No 3 batting slot, was playing quite magnificently and Steve Waugh, possessed of the steeliest resolve of all the Australians, replaced Taylor with the air of a man inspired by the great history of this most passionate of sporting conflicts.

By lunch, all except eight runs of England's 360-run lead had been wiped off and Australia, with just two wickets lost, had positioned themselves to turn the match on its head. Much more of the same and they might conceivably have done just that but England dined well and in the 70 minutes between lunch and the afternoon thunderstorm the most vital battle was won.

The snaring of Blewett, self-evidently, struck a major blow but it was the fire which Devon Malcolm and then Darren Gough stoked up in two splendidly brave bowling spells at the Pavilion End that revealed the strengthening character of this England team.

Malcolm was desperately unlucky not to go home with a tangible slice of England's success but Gough, finding the energy for another huge effort, gained the rewards he deserved. With that, much as Ian Healy and Shane Warne sought to preserve their side's chance, Australia's self-belief steadily ebbed away.

Had they been of a mind, England could have taken all the time they wanted to accumulate the runs required for victory but by scoring them in the cavalier manner, to the delight of a crowd drinking their fill of one of the summer's finer moments, they ensured that their opponents would slink away not merely beaten but humiliated.