Well, be careful what you wish for. I wanted an Aussie fightback to validate England’s excellent performance so far, and I got it. Coupled with the distinct possibility of significant rain, it has given the hosts more than a glimmer of hope of saving a test match they have no right to salvage.
All talk on the Sofa at the start of play was around the timing of Strauss’ declaration. I favoured putting the Aussies straight in to capitalize on any morning moisture and the prospect of the 2nd new ball late in the day. Manny preferred an hour’s thrashing about to ensure England wouldn’t need to bat again.
In the end, Strauss opted for the worst of both worlds by using up 41 minutes to score an additional 69 runs.
It was a thoroughly entertaining 41 minutes and gave us the opportunity properly to say goodbye to Xavier Doherty. Pieterson managed to surpass his previous highest test score and then promptly got out for 227 playing an insane slog to a wide ball that popped out of the footmarks. Xavier got his best and last test wicket and was then promptly smashed for six.
The true sadists in our commentary team enjoyed the rapidly bloating Aussie bowling figures (hard to pick a favourite from Siddle’s 0-121, Bollinger’s 1-130 and X-Doh’s 1-158), but all the while I feared the gloomy weather reports. But 620-5 is hard to argue with, and Bell’s unbeaten 68 confirms he’s in fine form.
The threat of rain is perhaps the most disempowering element of being a committed cricket watcher. Everything unfolding before you becomes tinged with anxiety and uncertainty. Manny cautioned patience as Aussie wickets refused to tumble, but when you’re receiving 40 tweets a minute with various unconfirmed reports of impending meteorological apocalypse, every innocuous delivery left alone outside off stump ratchets up the tension and frustration.
In fairness to all concerned, England’s bowlers stayed true to their plans, and Australia’s openers discovered some of their missing mongrel.
Katich, crippled by his Achilles problem, could barely run, frequently using his bat as a crutch. But somehow he managed to pull and drive impressively. Watson was as Watson is; fine looking straight driver with an increasingly solid defensive technique.
But as has been the pattern of late, their gutsy opening partnership was broken soon after lunch. With the score on 84 Katich dabbed at a turning delivery from Swann and got the faintest of feathers through to Prior. Interestingly he appeared to consult Watson as to the merits of referring the decision but decided against.
The arrival of Ponting always gets the juices flowing. He may not be in vintage form but you sensed that if anyone was going to get Australia out of this hole it was going to be their skipper.
But the wicket was definitely starting to crumble and Swann was getting the ball to turn and spit out of Bollinger’s footmarks (another stick with which to beat Doug the Rug).
When Swann got one to turn less, Ponting played for the spin and got a thick edge through to Collingwood at slip.
Pandemonium at once reigned. Joy was unconfined. It was as if the entire English diaspora had been released simultaneously from an underground slave cave and were free once more to smell the air and feel the sun on their cheeks.
And when Watson departed 11 overs later prodding at Finn and taken by Strauss low at slip, suddenly the threatened rain clouds counted for nothing.
But Hussey has defied his poor pre-Ashes form. Together with the fluent but lucky Clarke, they began once more to sow the seeds of anxiety.
Clarke has been out of form for a while now. His back has troubled him, his stance has got lower and lower, and he has looked less like the frisky pup of the past and more like the arthritic farm dog waiting to be put down.
Today he used his feet to negate Swann’s turn. With Hussey eagerly scampering between the wickets he managed to chip away alarmingly quickly at England’s 375 run lead.
They made it to tea, and the rain tweets started up again. Was the storm going to miss the ground? We checked inconclusive radar reports. We scanned the TV for signs of prevailing winds. Sure enough, it came about an hour after tea.
Dismay was getting the better of patience. We railed at the injustice of it all. Typical of the Aussies to escape their just desserts. How can it rain at Adelaide?
But there are many Gods in this world, and just as the Aussies have theirs, we English managed to summon one of our own. Off came the covers with 65 minutes remaining.
If we could take one wicket and get as close to the 2nd new ball as possible we could still hope for victory on day 5.
But agonizingly Hussey and Clarke speeded up. Strauss inexplicably tried Collingwood when we were screaming for Finn. Swann nearly had Hussey bowled. He nearly had Clarke caught. Nearly.
But then a strange thing happened. Strauss turned to KP for the last over of the day and the 80th of the innings. From the second ball he got one to turn out of the rough. Clarke tried to nudge it behind square on the leg side but only managed to thud it into his thigh. It popped up over Cook’s head. He turned. He dived. He caught it. More pandemonium.
And to add to the startling surreality of it all, Clarke referred it, or didn’t, or England did or the umpire did according to 4 different sources. Either way we had our wish. Four down and a new ball due first thing tomorrow. Had KP not decided to turn his cap round 180 degrees in the manner of a smug teenager who’s just pulled at a party, it would have been the perfect end to the day.
I dare say it could rain and we could be thwarted, but Clarke’s loss feels like a body blow. Fifty overs of play and I reckon England will get the victory they so richly deserve.
But until that 10th wicket goes down expect bitten nails, prayers to the weather Gods and lots of nervous pacing around to be the order of a very tense fifth day.