Ashes First Test, England vs Australia Day 5

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james-andersenIt seemed a pretty simple equation for the Australians arriving at The SWALEC for the final day of this Test. Turn up, take 8 English wickets and march on to Lords 1-0 up. Having given the English a 3 day batting masterclass in compiling 674, and Ponting reading the weather forecast well enough to declare earlier than most would have expected and nicking out 2 wickets before the rain came on day four, it looked like there was only one team left in the game. Of course England couldn’t win, but a draw was still possible, but all the smart money must surely have been on Australia making it six in a row.

England’s top two batsmen, captain Strauss and main man KP, were the not out batsmen over night so there was still hope. But not for long. Fourth over of the day saw Pietersen make a Horlicks, and a typically flamboyant one at that, of a straight delivery from Hilfenhaus which he let go all the way onto his off stump. England 31-3 and Collingwood, who it must be said thrives in this sort of situation, in earlier than anybody, Australians aside, would have liked. It didn’t get any better any time soon as the much maligned Mr Hauritz stepped up and had the English skipper caught behind top edging a sweep in just his second over. 46-4 with just 45 minutes of the day gone. Lunch was beginning to look like it might be a liquid one for Ponting and his men.

Sure enough, Matt Prior didn’t hang around all that long, 32 balls before he was back in the hutch caught off a top edge cutting, who other than Nathan “what the hell is he doing here” Hauritz. England finally limped to lunch 102-5, with no rain forecast to save them and only Collingwood left as a real hope for salvation. For any chance of the game being saved he would have to stay there for the rest of the innings and just hope that Flintoff, Broad, Swann, Anderson and, Heaven help us, Monty could do enough at the other end.

Flintoff did well enough, 89 minutes at the crease faced 71 balls and scored just 26 as he curbed his instincts to attack and played sensibly and solidly until he wafted his bat at a delivery from the out of sorts Johnston to Ricky at 2nd slip. You’d think it was game over now even with Broad and Swann still to come. Decent lower order batsmen they undoubtedly are, but this would be a step too far. Surely…

Another hour passed before Broad was on his way back to the pavilion, 159-7 now, not that the 159 mattered, probably, but all of a sudden you maybe just wondered. Not long until tea, if Swann could hang around until then and maybe an hour afterwards, Anderson plays his nightwatchman role, Colly holds tight, Johnston continues to aim at first slip…

Well, as it happened, Swann did just that. Another hours play eaten up before he was plumb in front playing an awful pull shot to a straight ball which kept a little low, but not so low that the maker’s name wouldn’t have dealt with it. Elation from Ponting and his men, the new ball had worked but now there were less than 20 overs to go and the score all of a sudden was threatening to add an extra dimension to things. England had crept up to 18 behind. So suddenly there was the chance that Australia might have to bat again to knock off a handful of runs. And in the process lose 2 overs, or ten minutes, for the change over. The game, all of a sudden, was looking less like a formality by the over.

There came a huge, huge, huge HUGE miss on the first ball of the16th last over. Anderson defended a short ball into the leg side, Collingwood wanted one, Anderson toyed with the idea for a step or three then sent collingwood back, by which time Hauritz had picked the ball up and send it towards the stumps at the non strikers end but missed all three as Collingwood was face down in the dust 6 inches or so short of his ground. That was match point missed. The rest of the over passed without incident and 15 overs were now to be bowled, as a minimum, and Aleem Dar signalled the last hour of the match at 5.50pm on the button.

11.3 overs to go, Collingwood caught Hussey, bowled Siddle. Oh Dear. Wonderful stuff from Mr Gritty, 344 minutes 245 balls and he was devastated. Out comes Monty, there go England.

7.4 overs to go, Australia have to bat again. Now then, now then, now then said Jimmy. Possibly.

5 overs remaining, England lead by 6. So if a wicket falls next over that one is gone, minus another two for the change. So it’s not quite now or never at this stage, but it ain’t far off.

Now, 4 overs to go following another Hauritz over and Ponting turned to North. Now it was now or never. If Australia didn’t get a wicket in this over that would be it. But, it wouldn’t. Because we were in the last hour. 15 overs minimum. Must play an hour. And with spin at both ends it was now a time issue, not an overs issue. Play had to end at 6.50pm, it’s a ten minute change around between innings so England just had t0 bat out until 6.41pm. Which would be in about 4 overs time. So two each from North and Hauritz. Even if a wicket did fall Australia would probably have only 1 over to score the required runs which would by no means be a foregone conclusion. England, at 6.30pm on the final day, had somehow, just about saved this Test Match from an impossible position at close on day 4, an insurmountable position at lunch on day 5 and a perilous position at tea on day 5.

And, lo and behold, save it they did. Monty crashed North through cover for 4 in his first over, Anderson blocked out a maiden from Hauritz, Monty blocked out a maiden from North, 6.39pm, one more over during which the clock would tick on to 6.40pm and the game would be over anyway, no runs until the last ball which spun out of the rough for a bye, handshakes all round and the game was drawn. My word what a final session that was.

Well done England, commiserations Australia. England escape and have little time to sort things out before Lords. Batting needs work, not technically, but mentally. The Australians will be looking for more of the same. Ineffectual stuff from Johnston today cost them big, and the two spinners never really looked like sorting the last pair out. Thrilling stuff, bring on the next one.

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