1. August 2009 19:45
It is so tempting to revel in the elements and congratulate Mother Nature for effectively ruling out any chance of an Australian win at Edgbaston. England could just about manage it, if they reached 450 tomorrow and then bowled the Aussies out in two sessions on Monday, but the prospect of the visitors taking 18 more wickets and having a second innings in the twelve hours remaining stretches the bounds of belief. So it's got to be advantage England.
Or is it? Andrew Strauss believes that an Ashes win is only meaningful if you take on the best Australian side there is. That's why he let Graham Manou sub in for the injured wicketkeeper, Brad Haddin, after the toss and the naming of teams on Thursday. Presumably he would also want to beat the Australians without the weather helping. But surely, you might say, you have to take whatever luck comes your way? I would say not. To follow that line of reasoning is to miss the essence of a victory against the old enemy.
You see, no-one whinges like the Aussies when they fail to win. If they have an excuse for a defeat, or even a draw, it is repeated ad nauseam. They failed to beat England at Lord's in 1997 because rain intervened. The same was said of Brisbane in 1998, with knobs on. England were let back into the 2005 Ashes contest because Glenn McGrath was injured at Edgbaston, an excuse which was wheeled out again at Trent Bridge. You get the idea. So, if England are to regain the Ashes this time, it's got to be all-out, full-strength warfare in blazing sunshine. And should we lose, we can tell anyone who'll listen that we'd have won if we'd had Kevin Pietersen.
31. July 2009 17:52
We were all rather concerned at the start of play. How many times, in our long-suffering lives as England cricket fans, have we seen Australia turn an overnight score like 126-1 into a dominating, impregnable position? The answer is: too often. Dan, anticipating a total of 500 or more, suggested England might lose by an innings. Our nerves turned to incredulity as Graham Onions, with overnight figures of three wicketless overs for 21 runs, was handed the ball by Andrew Strauss and told to bowl the first over of the day. Onions? What? Not James Anderson or Andrew Flintoff? Well, what followed had us speechless in disbelief. It was like watching a highlights programme: the Durham seamer dismissed Shane Watson with his first ball and Michael Hussey with his second. The crowd at Birmingham had barely taken their seats and were already jumping out of them.
There was no comeback for Australia. Michael Clarke found himself charged with an onerous task: to marshall Marcus North, Graham Manou and the tail to save his team from collapse. The responsibility was not as weighty as the one he shouldered on the fifth morning at Lord's, but the outcome was the same. He failed to fill his boots. Reprieved by Flintoff at second slip off Onions, he missed a big inswinger from Anderson and was quickly (wrongly as it turned out) given out lbw by Rudi Koertzen. Australia were left in disarray. It's not reasonable to expect miracles from Clarke, but we've heard too much about his growth in stature and it is worrying for Australia that he is not finishing the job more often.
Why did it all go so well for England? Onions and Anderson bowled a much tighter, more attacking line than yesterday, without leaking runs. They did not so much make the ball talk as make it present a chat show. Flintoff looked tired and it was fortunate for Strauss that he didn't have to call on him too often. Stuart Broad again seemed out of his depth, as has become customary. He seems incapable of bowling aggressive, rapid deliveries to hurry the batsmen and unwilling to adopt a tighter, more containing line. Not simply playing a bowler for his runs at number eight was a lesson learned, I thought, in the Ashley Giles years. Broad has to shape up or ship out. Graeme Swann was underbowled but from the look of the turn Nathan Hauritz was getting at the end of the second day, he will yet have a role to play.
England, of course, need to knuckle down, but you know all that. With showers forecast on and off for the rest of the match, they need 400 to put real pressure on Australia. It's not enough to hope for draws and reach the final test at the Oval 1-0 up. England need to kick the Aussies when they're down.