England deliver on cue
Posted in England in Australia 2010-11
Following a chastening third day in Brisbane, England’s batsmen needed to stand up and be counted today as they looked to salvage a result in the opening Ashes Test.
By the time stumps were drawn, the top three had risen to the task in such wonderful fashion that Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Ian Bell and Matt Prior were actually able to put their feet up and relax.
England’s middle order may still be required to play a vital role tomorrow. I, for one, have certainly not forgotten the dramatic events in Adelaide four years ago, where the tourists surrendered a seemingly impregnable position on the final day.
But after witnessing such a stirring fightback from Andrew Strauss and Co today, it hardly seems appropriate to indulge in such pessimistic fretting.
Instead, let’s reflect on the many positives that came from a compelling fourth day’s play at the Gabba.
When England resumed their second innings on 19 without loss this morning, still 202 runs in arrears, even the most upbeat supporter would have struggled to foresee what was to come.
In fact, I clearly recall rolling my eyes as one colleague - certainly the most optimistic of our number - outlined his dream scenario for the day: a score of 300 for four by the close.
As it happens, I was right to reject his fanciful notion, but not for the reasons I may have imagined as England coasted to an even more outstanding total of 309 for one.
Captain Strauss and his second-in-command Alastair Cook each helped themselves to sublime centuries, the latter still unbeaten on 132 when bad light forced an early close.
The duo put on 188 for the first wicket, a record English stand in Brisbane, and surpassed Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe as their country’s most productive opening partnership in Tests.
Jonathan Trott also came to the party with an unbeaten fifty as Australia’s bowlers were made to suffer just as their English counterparts had 24 hours earlier at the hands of Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin.
While no member of the home attack could be particularly satisfied with their efforts - aside from part-time off-spinner Marcus North, who claimed the only wicket to fall when he had Strauss stumped by Haddin for 110 - a certain left-arm paceman found things tougher than most.
Mitchell Johnson, a man recently regarded as one of the brightest stars in international cricket, suffered a day to forget as he followed up a 19-ball duck with a miserable display in the field.
It is far too early to write off Johnson and he could yet play a decisive role for his country as they look to regain the Ashes urn.
But, for the time being, the 29-year-old appears to be suffering from an alarming crisis in confidence and his misery was compounded as he put down a simple catch at mid-off when Strauss was on 69.
The incident summed up Australia’s day and it is they who must now dig deep if they are to regain the momentum ahead of next week’s second Test in Adelaide.
All four results remain possible going into the final day. I wonder if yet another twist is in the offing...