Series in sight with England flat out of luck

FIFTH TEST: Taylor takes control on an easy pitch to dash Atherton's hopes of regaining Ashes

Dame Fortune can be a harsh mistress. So when Michael Atherton lost his fifth consecutive toss of the series he knew his team would be consigned to a long, hot and fairly fruitless day in the field. On the flattest Test pitch of the summer, and with their first day score nestling nicely on 302-3, Australia are resolutely in charge of this match. With a huge total in prospect, and England having the disadvantage of batting last against Shane Warne, the Ashes, if not quite the series, are as good as Australia bound.

If it was not quite as tortuous as the first day here eight years ago, when Michael Atherton and Devon Malcolm made their Test debuts. On that occasion Mark Taylor scored 219 and England went wicketless for a whole day. But although Taylor made only 76, and was one of three wickets to fall, the cycle of supremacy is still no closer to being broken.

For Taylor a satisfying day was crowned when he neatly glided Robert Croft for a leg-side four. By taking his score from 60 to 64, he became only the sixth Australian to pass 6,000 Test runs, joining an elite band headed by Allan Border and including Don Bradman, Greg Chappell, David Boon and Neil Harvey.

Taylor has been a fine servant as both batsman and captain and is a popular figure with both players and public alike. But although his recent struggle with form and fitness have been well documented - he was bowled by a beauty from Andy Caddick yesterday - he has not allowed it to detract from the important business of winning Test series. Should Australia prevail here, it will be his seventh winning series as captain, a record most modern captains would kill for.

Poor England. They huffed and they puffed, but despite some generous swing for most of the day, they could not blow the opposition down. But if this was the game in which to to gamble everything, the biggest puzzle, was why - after a summer of playing on result pitches - a bland shirt front was produced for this, the most crucial match of the series?

Inconsistency has probably been England's biggest problem over the last decade. Judging by the nature of the surface here, it is clearly not one limited to playing performance alone and the groundstaff and their masters have obviously not had their Walkmans recently tuned to "Land Of Hope and Glory". Indeed, had England's predicament here been faced by either South Africa or New Zealand, there would have been no question that the pitch would have provided a result, one way or the other, in under four days.

The conditions permitting, it was not an unimpressive bowling performance, and both Dean Headley and Andrew Caddick perhaps deserved better reward than their single-wicket hauls.

Mind you, as perfectionists might reason, four-day cricket was brought in to specifically prepare English bowlers for such occasions. Judging by the way Australia's top four each made fifties, the benefits of four- day cricket has yet to kick in. Which is why this pitch, despite the Australian complaints at Headingley, should have been prepared to offer far more than it did. In fact the only lateral movement achieved by England's bowlers, was when their shirt sleeves were used to wipe their hot and bothered brows.

Apart form a few sticky moments during Headley's new ball spell, Taylor and Matthew Elliott found little to prevent them from posting their second hundred partnership of the series. It was only when Headley won a contentious appeal for an inside edge against Elliott, who had scored 69, that England got into the game.

With Phil Tufnell again missing out for the fifth time this summer - the England Cricket Board probably has a standing order with him for the 12th man's fee - the inclusion of both Hollioake brothers, especially Ben, was always going to be a gamble, albeit one worth trying.

If the burden of expectation weighed heavily on either, it did not show. In fact Ben, clearly intending to enjoy the experience, was all smiles. He may not be your usual self-conscious 19-year-old, but a pocketful of sweets, popped into his mouth at regular intervals during the afternoon, betrayed his teenager status.

But if their early spells were undistinguished, at 5.45pm, a little bit of history was created as the pair bowled in tandem. It was a juxtaposition that proved fruitful too, with Ben claiming Greg Blewett as his maiden Test wicket. Batting serenely, Blewett, who had just reached his fifty, edged a cut shot to Alec Stewart who obliged his young Surrey team-mate by bringing off a superb one-handed catch.

It was the last sniff England got as "the Nugget" (Steve Waugh) combined with "the Natural" (twin brother Mark) to steer Australia past three hundred. With Mark, unbeaten on 60 and long overdue a big score, the omens do not look good. With his brother still there to keep him company today, England may yet have to wait another day to get to the crease. If that happens, then it will be sackcloth without the Ashes coming their way.

Henry Blofeld, page 24

Australia won toss

AUSTRALIA - First Innings

M T G Elliott c Stewart b Headley 69

(158 min, 117 balls, 10 fours)

*M A Taylor b Caddick 76

(218 min, 155 balls, 12 fours

G S Blewett c Stewart b B C Hollioake 50

(142 min, 115 balls, 7 fours

M E Waugh not out 60

(158 min, 112 balls, 6 fours

S R Waugh not out 38

(75 min, 45 balls, 6 fours

Extras (lb5, w1, nb3) 9

Total (for 3, 377 min, 90 overs) 302

Fall: 1-117 (Elliott), 2-160 (Taylor), 3-225 (Blewett).

To bat: R T Ponting, I A Healy, S K Warne, P R Reiffel, G D McGrath, J N Gillespie.

Bowling: Malcolm 18-3-70-0 (w1) (6-1-19-0, 2-0-9-0, 5-2-16-0, 2-0-11- 0, 3-0-15-0); Caddick 19-4-54-1 (6-1-17-0, 11-3-28-1; 2-0-9-0); B C Hollioake 8-1-40-1 (nb1) (3-0-23-0, 5-1-17-1); Croft 16-6-37-0 (5-4-1-0, 9-2-31- 0, 2-0-5-0); A J Hollioake 7-0-24-0 (2-0-7-0, 5-0-17-0).

Progress: 50: 79 min, 19.1 overs. Lunch: 84-0 (Elliott 49, Taylor 34) 30 overs. 100: 133 min, 32.5 overs. 150: 201 min, 49 overs. Tea: 181-2 (Blewett 25, M Waugh 6) 59 overs. 200: 268 min, 65.2 overs. 250: 330 min, 79.2 overs. New ball: Taken after 83.4 overs at 265-3. 300: 376 min, 89.5 overs.

Elliott 50: 123 min, 94 balls, 7 fours.

Taylor 50: 164 min, 122 balls, 6 fours.

Blewett 50: 141 min, 114 balls, 7 fours.

M E Waugh 50: 133 min, 93 balls, 6 fours.

ENGLAND: *M A Atherton, A J Stewart, J P Crawley, N Hussain, G P Thorpe, A J Hollioake, B C Hollioake, R D B Croft, D W Headley, A R Caddick, D E Malcolm.

Umpires: D R Shepherd (Eng) and C J Mitchley (SA).

BBC Scotland have defended their decision to screen the women's golf from at Gleneagles yesterday instead ahead of the fifth Test from Trent Bridge.

Hundreds of angry viewers jammed the BBC's switchboard, furious that play from the McDonald's WPGA Championship of Europe was denying them live coverage of England being put to the sword again by Australia.

The callers found a champion in Alex Ritchie, the general manager of the Scottish Cricket Union. He said: "To give blanket coverage of the women's golf and cut off the cricket entirely is an absolute nonsense. It is typical of the BBC to underestimate the interest in cricket in Scotland. Surely a compromise situation must be reached so that both events can be shown extensively." But Neil Fraser, the head of sport and leisure with BBC Scotland, said: "Our position remains unchanged. BBC Scotland's commitment is to cover a range of sports with particular emphasis on the key events on the Scottish sporting calendar.

"Between today and Monday we will be devoting nearly 18 hours to live coverage and highlights from the fifth Test, and extensive coverage of the World Athletics Championships.

"Over the summer months BBC Scotland will screen nearly 200 hours of English cricket - 10 times that devoted to women's golf. Indeed, cricket coverage outstrips our total golf coverage by around 80 hours a year, so we do provide cricket lovers with extensive opportunities to follow key events."

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