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Australia cruise to easy victory over England at Headingley

Richard Hobson Times Online 09.08.2009 23:30
Swann-song: Clark is flayed for yet another boundary as England delay the inevitable defeat with some big hitting

Swann-song: Clark is flayed for yet another boundary as England delay the inevitable defeat with some big hitting

Headingley Carnegie (third day of five): Australia beat England by an innings and 80 runs

England resisted until 25 minutes after lunch and for a mad hour even raised parallels with the great game of 1981, with Stuart Broad cast as Ian Botham and Graeme Swann as Graham Dilley, providing support.

However, their stand did little more than delay the inevitable, keep the bars buzzing and bring mild comic relief for Andrew Strauss and his colleagues on the dressing-room balcony.

Most of the match — and even beforehand, with confusion over the make-up of the side — felt like one of those horribly one-sided Ashes Tests of the Nineties, except this time England were not beaten by the genius of stellar names. They succumbed because Australia showed command of basics such as line and length, read the conditions and fielded like panthers.

Before the series, wisdom held that Australia would retain the Ashes if they could reproduce their form from South Africa. They may have found it in time. All four of the pace bowlers had their moments and the fact that they shared the wickets — Mitchell Johnson finished with five for 69 yesterday — enabled Marcus North to sneak in for the man-of-the-match award for his hundred on Saturday.

Nothing should be read into the sideshow by Broad and Swann. Batting under no pressure, they put on 108 from 80 balls after James Anderson guided the third ball of the morning to second slip and Brad Haddin’s one- handed catch removed Matt Prior. At the most, it may have opened a route for Nathan Hauritz to provide a spin option at the Brit Oval in place of Stuart Clark, who took the heaviest punishment.

Broad and Swann hammered the bowling off either foot, raising their respective fifties from 42 and 53 balls. For the only time in the match, Australia briefly slackened, but they recovered intensity after the interval, when Swann chased a wide ball and the rejuvenated Johnson nipped one back to bowl Graham Onions.

At the presentation ceremony, Strauss found himself booed by a minority of spectators. More joined the chorus when Ricky Ponting mounted the podium, a response to the winning captain that was nothing other than pathetic. Strauss correctly identified that the Test was lost in the first session of the first day.

With all the distractions of Andrew Flintoff’s non-selection, Prior’s back spasm and a delayed toss, the captain may have considered bowling first on the basis that a bad session with the ball is easier to recover than two calamitous hours with the bat. If the mind of a captain is scrambled, then confusion can only course through the rest of the side. But that can be no excuse at this level.

Ravi Bopara suffered a poor decision in the second innings, but in the first his dismissal reeked of shattered confidence and a batsman thinking too much instead of playing instinctively. Ian Bell defended flimsily when England needed backbone and Paul Collingwood has been playing across his front pad since his heroic resistance in the first Test in Cardiff.


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