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No miracle for England, but all is not lost

Posted in npower Ashes Series 2009

Graeme Swann

Graeme Swann lifts the spirits of the Headingley crowd with a rapid fifty

With the result of the fourth npower Test all but decided after two miserable days, England finally gave the Headingley Carnegie crowd something to cheer today with a stirring fightback.

Resuming on 82 for five, still 261 runs short of making Australia bat again, much of the talk on arriving at the ground this morning centred around whether the hosts could hold out until lunch - with the majority suggesting it was less than likely.

The early dismissals of James Anderson and Matt Prior did little to remove the air of pessimism clouding an otherwise glorious day in Leeds.

But then, out of nowhere, something extraordinary happened.

Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann came together for a stunning century stand and for a glorious hour it was almost possible to forget the dismal nature of England’s performance in the opening two days of the match.

The duo added 108 runs for the eighth wicket - more than England’s entire line-up had managed in their first innings.

What’s more, they did so in electrifying fashion, taking just 73 balls to register their hundred partnership and exercising total dominance over an Australia attack that had tormented England up to that point.

As lunch approached, it was impossible not to think back to 1981 (a difficult task for me given that I was born in 1986) and the famed heroics of Ian Botham at this very venue.

Back then, Botham smashed 149 not out as England recovered from 135 for seven in their second innings to post 356.

Despite Beefy’s heroics, Australia were still expected to reach their modest target of 130, but they subsequently collapsed to 111 all out, with Bob Willis claiming 8-43.

With the likes of Stuart Clark and Peter Siddle disappearing to all corners of Headingley, those who had earlier written England off were daring to dream of another miracle.

Stuart Broad

Stuart Broad frees his arms during a stand of 108 which aroused hopes of a remarkable fightback

Surely it couldn’t happen again could it? Well...no, unfortunately.

Broad was promptly dismissed for 61, and, although England battled on for a few more overs either side of lunch, they were soon facing the crushing reality of an innings defeat.

Today's dramatic counter-attack will live long in the memory of those who witnessed it, but there can be no escaping the extent to which England were outplayed in this Test.

Prior to this morning, it was hard to think of many positives that could be taken into the series decider at the Brit Oval.

From the moment talismanic all-rounder Andrew Flintoff was ruled out of the match with a knee injury, England, as Andrew Strauss admitted, “didn’t turn up”.

Dismissed for a lowly 102 inside 34 overs, the home side proceeded to bowl with a worrying lack of discipline, allowing Australia to rack up a mammoth lead.

And when the time came to atone for their first-innings efforts, England’s batsmen once again failed to fire - save for this morning’s uplifting salvo.

Of course, it is easy to become overly critical on the back of one performance, just as it was easy to briefly become carried away with Broad and Swann’s attempted heroics.

While many doom-merchants will label this week’s defeat as a crucial turning point, it should not be forgotten that England remain just one win away from regaining the Ashes.

Granted, it will require a vast improvement at the Oval if the hosts are to triumph, but, as they showed in the West Indies over the winter and in this summer’s ICC World Twenty20, Andrew Strauss’ side are more than capable of bouncing back from a poor display.

They may not have been able to pull off a miracle today, but a dream ending to the summer remains a distinct possibility.