England have their work cut out
Posted in npower Ashes Series 2009
England have it all to do on the final day at Cardiff. Two hundred and 19 runs in arrears with eight wickets in hand, they must bat with greater application than first time around to avoid defeat.
True, the hosts lost only seven wickets on the opening day when they 336 racked up runs. A repeat performance tomorrow would salvage a draw, although England hope not such a narrow one.
But to be sure of taking the series to Lord’s all square next week England must do what they could not in the first innings: turn fifties into hundreds.
Every England batsman, bar number 11 Monty Panesar, made double figures in the first innings. Of them Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood and Matt Prior passed 50.
It will be up to the middle-order trio, plus opener Andrew Strauss, to bat out as much of day five as possible after Alastair Cook and Ravi Bopara fell lbw before rain wiped out play after tea.
How they go about that will be crucial. The past two Ashes series demonstrate a clear example of how to and how not to approach their task.
First, how not to: December 5 2006, Adelaide. England, 1-0 down after Brisbane, went into the last day 97 ahead with nine wickets in hand.
With a home victory the only likely positive outcome, the tourists batted for draw and paid for it. Collingwood’s 119-ball innings of 22 not out typified one of England’s darkest recent days.
Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Shane Warne cleaned up, leaving 186 required for victory in the final session. Australia eased home to leave England shell-shocked and needing three straight wins to retain the Ashes. That did not happen.
Second, how to: September 12 2005, the Brit Oval. England, 2-1 up after victory at Trent Bridge, began day five 40 in front with nine wickets to play with to regain the Ashes.
A disappointing start saw the hosts slip to 126 for five and Australia scented blood. Kevin Pietersen had other ideas.
The right-hander took on Australia’s bowlers, smashing 15 fours and seven sixes on his way to 158 and Ashes glory. You know the rest.
Such a positive approach - Pietersen's innings occupied 187 balls - meant that when he was out, the game was beyond Australia.
A repeat performance from Pietersen tomorrow would be ideal and an answer to the critics who stuck the knife in after his first-innings dismissal.
However, unlike at Adelaide and the Oval, England will start the day in arrears - more than 200 behind Australia.
They will have to bat until the close to make a draw certain. 5.30pm may not be long enough. Ricky Ponting’s side would fancy their chances of knocking off 50 in the last half hour, a doddle in the era of Twenty20 cricket.
Should the tourists go 1-0 up tomorrow, no one could begrudge Ponting & Co their win. 674 for six is their highest score against England since 1934 and never before have four Australia batsmen made centuries in one innings against England.
That quartet’s determination is the ultimate example to England tomorrow.