Australia win in thriller

A somnambulant four days gave way to a dynamic fifth as Australia chased down 168 to win the second Ashes Test at Adelaide today.

With a tame draw the favoured result entering the final day, Shane Warne did what he has done so many times in his 15 year Test career – turn a game inexorably Australia’s way.

Despite commentators and fans alike lamenting the slow pitch and pace of play over the first four days, Test cricket once again proved itself the most dynamic of sports when played between two evenly matched teams on a surface which offers a chance to bowlers and batsmen alike.

Resuming at one for 59 in their second innings, England were soon bogged down by Warne, who bowled unchanged through the day. Andrew Strauss was the first to go, unluckily given out caught at bat-pad from a ball which spun savagely but which did not appear to strike his blade.

The calamitous run-out of Ian Bell by Michael Clarke and Warne added to England’s woes as Warne continued to spin his web. He was ably supported firstly by Stuart Clark and then by Brett Lee, who bowled his most economical and incisive spell against England. The run out was the result of the pressure created by Australia’s bowlers, but Bell had only himself to blame as he failed to respond to Paul Collingwood’s early call when there was clearly a single on offer to backward point.

Kevin Pietersen, England’s most aggressive batsman was next to go, bowled around his legs by Warne for two in attempting an ambitious sweep shot. After playing Warne so well in compiling his first-innings century, the second round of their intriguing duel went to Australia’s aging maestro. Pietersen had eschewed the sweep in the first innings and will rue his decision to unfurl the shot so early in his second.

By this time, Clark and Lee had both begun extracting useful reverse swing which assisted Warne in tying the batsmen down. Lee in particular was most impressive, and succeeded in removing England captain Andrew Flintoff, caught behind playing a lazy drive for two. It was a continuation of Flintoff’s disappointing tour with the bat so far. Next to go was wicketkeeper Geraint Jones, caught at gully by Matthew Hayden off Lee who, having replaced Clark bowled unchanged until lunch. At the adjournment England were teetering at five for 89, their inability or unwillingness to score runs as big a dilemma as the wickets which had tumbled.

Through the carnage, Collingwood again stood tall. Having made a career-best double century in the first innings, he was at his most resolute in resisting the cut of Lee and the thrust of Warne.

Sadly for England, Collingwood’s courage was in vain as the wickets steadily fell after the break. Ashley Giles and Matthew Hoggard both fell to Warne before Glenn McGrath, somewhat peeved at being overlooked by captain Ricky Ponting all morning, cleaned up Steve Harmison and James Anderson, both of whom resisted admirably but could not help Collingwood advance the score quickly enough to put the game beyond Australia’s reach. Collingwood finished on a courageous 22 not out from 119 balls faced.

England’s eventual total of 129 was scored from 73 overs. They scored only 78 runs from 54 overs bowled today, and it was this inability to score runs which contributed to their demise as much as the clatter of 9 wickets for 50 runs. Ponting’s field placements were exemplary, though eyebrows were raised when he offered Collingwood gratuitous singles while he was batting with numbers 10 and 11.

For his part, Warne bowled unchanged until the end, finishing with four for 49 from 32 miserly overs. His control was amazing as he wheeled away, seemingly ageless and with boundless reserves of energy. The bite and spin was back, as was a hint of drift and all the variations. Most of all, there was menace in his approach to the wicket and drive through the crease at delivery.

Lee bowled his best spell of the summer, with his usual pace but most importantly, accuracy. Stuart Clark was again accuracy personified, whilst McGrath wrapped up the tail in his familiar manner. All of Australia’s fast bowlers were able to gain useful reverse swing on an increasingly abrasive surface.

Australia began their run-chase after the tea break, and there was no doubt that their intentions were to go after the runs. Justin Langer and Hayden took 14 off the first two overs before Langer fell to the tireless Hoggard, caught by Ian Bell. Soon after, Hayden fell to Flintoff, caught spectacularly by Collingwood who ran back with the flight of the ball to pouch a top-edged pull shot. Australia were two for 33 and it appeared that the match still had a twist in its tail

Elevated to number four, Mike Hussey combined with Ponting for a partnership of 83. Australia’s best two batsmen scored at a great rate, considering that this was a fifth day wicket and England had struggled so desperately for runs earlier in the day.

Ponting was smartly caught by Strauss from Giles for 49, and when Damien Martyn was caught by the same fielder from England’s talismanic captain for only five, hearts were aflutter in the Australian camp. Michael Clarke then joined Hussey, their profitable partnership including an almost humorous incident which summed up England’s day. Clarke drove Flintoff through midwicket and completed three, whereupon Pietersen threw the ball horribly to keeper Jones who missed it, conceding four over-throws and resulting in an indoor cricket-like seven runs from the one delivery.

Ashley Giles was utilized by Flintoff in several spells during the afternoon, but the contrast between he and Warne could not have been greater. Where Warne threatened, Giles appeared to be bowling in a holding pattern, not really turning the ball viciously nor looking to deceive the batsmen with flight. By this time, England coach Duncan Fletcher may well have wished he had the services of Monty Panesar, omitted in favour of Giles.

Despite Flintoff’s heroic efforts, England’s other bowlers did not provide him with the support he required. Harmison and Anderson failed to provide much in the way of penetration. The captain’s dodgy ankle is carrying his attack as well as his own impressive frame.

Eventually it fell to Hussey to hit the winning runs off the bowling of Anderson, with a characteristic sweetly timed cover drive. His, Clarke’s and Australia’s joy was England’s agony.

And so it came to pass that England gained an unenviable record. Their first innings total of six for 551 is most runs scored by a team declaring after batting first which has subsequently gone on to lose a match in Test cricket history. Collingwood also joined Ponting as the second batsman in two years at this venue to score a double hundred and be on the losing side.

Those are just two of the post-scripts to a remarkable game of cricket. In the end, Australia won because three of their four great players – Ponting, Gilchrist and Warne – made telling contributions when they were most desperately needed

England 551-6 dec
Paul Collingwood 206, Kevin Pietersen 158
Stuart Clark 3-75

Australia 513
Ricky Ponting 142, Michael Clarke 124
Hoggard 7-109

England 129
Andrew Strauss 34, Paul Collingwood 22*
Shane Warne 4-49, Glenn McGrath 2-15, Brett Lee 2-25

Australia 168-4
Michael Hussey 61*, Ricky Ponting 49
Andrew Flintoff 2-44

Australia won by 6 wickets.

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