Left field

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Ashes analysis: Any result is possible after more great cricket

July 19, 2009

It takes guts, skill, determination and more than anything patience to win a test match and that is why the longest form of cricket is still one of the greatest challenges that a sportsman can face.

And England will need all the patience that human nature can muster if they are to wear down and eventually beat this resolute Australian side, which managed to recover from 128 for five to close on 313 with the loss of no further wickets, chasing another 209 runs for victory.

Bad light again saw a truncated day’s play as the magnificent Michael Clarke and the unyielding Brad Haddin put on a superb partnership for the sixth wicket, sending strains of anxiety coursing through the England camp.

The premature finish to the day will have benefited England more than Australia, who were looking more than comfortable and almost rapacious with their scoring, despite England taking the second new ball, in bowler friendly conditions, just before the close.

There will be much soul searching for Andrew Strauss and his men, who are still in the box seat for this test match, but the team will be concerned that they have allowed a resilient if unspectacular Australian side to get so close to the 522 target they set.

Once again the pitch showed its compassion to the batsmen even if England’s bowling became lackadaisical as the day wore on and the bowling intensity waned.

England will regroup and come again in the morning in what will be an ultra tense and ultra tight final day’s play (Edgbaston 2005, anyone?), but if they want to emerge as the best test playing nation in the world, these will be the types of challenges they will need to overcome.

Australia will be on cloud nine following a controversial two sessions before tea where three of the five wickets they lost could have been given not out on another day.

Katich was caught off what should have been called a no ball. Strauss caught Phil Hughes at slip when the ball looked to have brushed the ground and had the umpires called for a referral he would surely have been reprieved.

Mike Hussey was given out caught at slip, despite appearing not to hit the ball.

Despite all that, England’s bowlers were disciplined and incisive in the sessions before tea, with Andrew Flintoff showing fans what they’ll be missing when he departs the test arena following multiple hostile spells.

England will need to be relentless and intense and show the calmness their tail-enders displayed in Cardiff if they are to achieve their first victory over Australia at Lord’s since 1934, but can they take a further five wickets or have Australia wrestled back the initiative to complete an unlikely and unprecedented victory?

PHOTO: Australia’s Michael Clarke celebrates scoring a century against England during the second Ashes test at Lord’s, July 19, 2009. REUTERS/Kieran Doherty

Comments

Sadly, this will be a humiliation for England if they lose, as now seems possible (and in my book the odds are better for this outcome than others are acknowledging – all Australia need is another 75 say tomorrow morning without loss and suddenly, they only need 135ish to win with 4 wickets in hand…).

Strausss’s captaincy has unfortunately been weak in both Tests – not setting fields which put any pressure on the batsmen, that either allow them to score singles too often or, don’t make the batters feel pressurised in situations where the wind is behind the England sails. That profligacy with gifting the opposition easy runs, and allowing their batsmen too easy an time at points when they could be pressured, will unfortunately be the point that caused us to lose if we end up losing by a couple of wickets. That and the questionable decision not to make the Aussies follow on, which whatever else you say about it smacked of a lack of nerve.

But it was always obvious Strauss wasn’t going to the hottest captain – he was always going to be the most brilliantly diplomatic choice, able to say the pleasing thing whatever the circumstances, but he doesn’t have that cutting edge about him as a captain (which in truth he does have about him when it comes to that separate matter, his batting…).

Pietersen had the cutting edge as captain – he knew exactly the kind of thing it would take to haul England on to be genuine winners at the higher echelons of the game, he was just too far ahead of the curve in that respect and so annoyed the powers-that-be in the management. If you had Pietersen’s cricketing nous and Strauss’s diplomacy, you’d have a heck of a captain and the lack of that will probably be why we’re going to lose this series (positive performance in this test notwithstanding…).

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