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Barely time to catch your breath

Posted in npower Ashes Series 2009

Matt Prior

Matt Prior is helped from the field after suffering a back spasm during the warm-up

It may not have been Friday the 13th, but today’s opening day of the fourth npower Test at Headingley Carnegie was one of the most bizarre and frantic days of Test cricket in England’s recent history.

Indeed, Friday August 7 began for most of the England squad at around 4.50am in central Leeds, when they were bundled out of bed and into the street after a fire alarm disturbed their pre-match slumber.

With all the players and staff forced to evacuate the Radisson Hotel, it hardly boded well for England’s preparations for the decisive fourth Test, which before the start of play had England fans daring to dream that the Ashes could be sewn up before the trip next week to the Brit Oval for the fifth Test.

However, the scores of England fans enjoying a full night’s sleep whilst contemplating a Headingley victory awoke to the news that Andrew Flintoff had lost his fitness battle with his troublesome knee.

Having been brought back firmly back into the real world with the news that Flintoff had unfortunately been omitted, journalists, fans and the players themselves were then alarmed with the news that wicketkeeper Matt Prior was suddenly a doubt after he suffered a back spasm during the warm-up on the outfield.

The packed press box, as well as fans at the ground, were duly treated to the sight of Paul Collingwood donning the gloves to take slip catches as frantic rumours swirled of the availability of everyone from Tim Ambrose to Bruce French to Alec Stewart.

News of the toss being delayed - unheard of in recent times in a Test match - by 10 minutes as Prior was assessed merely added to the confusion and helter-skelter nature of the morning, although the wicketkeeper admitted in post-match interviews that the sporting concession by Australia had probably enabled his participation in the game.

Ricky Ponting

Ricky Ponting makes hay as England's bowlers fail to follow Australia's example of maintaining a fuller length

England’s first innings did little to quell the fast-moving, frenzied nature of a game that moved on apace through the day.

Wickets tumbled, Australians celebrated and an expectant capacity crowd of around 18,000 were largely diminished in their chanting.

Australia’s commendable bowling on a full length, coupled with some sharp and error-free catching in the slips or behind the wicket, reaped the same rewards England have produced on occasions this series and they duly skittled out the hosts for a total that was equal to the sixth worse Test score at this venue.

That the visitors maintained this pace and purpose is a testament to their skill and execution of the plans they have no doubt worked on since falling behind at Lord’s.

While England played their part with a customary early wicket to produce a first great cheer from an understandably subdued crowd, Ricky Ponting and Shane Watson bludgeoned some short bowling to rocket along at eight an over and keep the game moving at a blistering rate.

England’s resolve in picking up three more wickets, thus keeping them in the game, albeit by the skin of their teeth, merely topped off what can rightly be called a remarkable day’s cricket - one in which 14 wickets tumbled for 298 runs and yet again showed that Test cricket can captivate, infuriate and enthrall in equal measure.