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Saturday, December 02, 2006

England's big day on the field

England built on yesterday's substantial start, batting through the day which became increasingly sunnier for them, both literally and metaphorically. They declared at 6/551 and had Australia 1/28 at stumps.

Today's play was an amplification of yesterday's: Paul Collingwood made the two runs he needed for his century, and then batted on slowly but proficiently in partnership with Kevin Pietersen, who played more memorable strokes more often without pulling ahead on the scorecard. The Australian bowling was tidy and at times threatening, yet no wicket fell until the penultimate ball before tea when a tired Collingwood was caught behind off Stuart Clark for 206. His 310 run partnership with Pietersen set many new records but more importantly gave England some hope of a victory and a reasonable expectation of a draw.

The two innings were each of extremely high quality, yet different in character. As many others will doubtless say, the two men complemented each other. In temperament (but not technique) Collingwood reminds me of Ken Barrington. Pietersen is much more the stylist but he didn't keep on the attack throughout: having reached his century he concentrated on countering Shane Warne's leg theory with pad play. The pitch remained flat but the bowling was better than the figures, apart from Stuart Clark's, indicated. IMO Brett Lee was the best over the day: he was the only one whose pace and bounce troubled Collingwood. The Australians kept up the pressure in the field: I thought that England might have turned a few more twos into threes and threes into fours, but when Ricky Ponting ran out Pietersen going for his 159th run (which umpire Bucknor was in no position to judge), I saw the wisdom of their earlier caution.

After the big partnership was broken wickets fell more frequently. Andrew Flintoff and Ashley Giles hit out robustly before captain Flintoff imperiously swatted a boundary, which took the total past 550, and declared.

Stephen Harmison had measured out his run up when Flintoff made a last second decision to open the bowling himself. This was more than justified when he had Justin Langer caught in the gully. In the final minutes of the day Harmison loosened up vigorously and ostentatiously but the last two overs were bowled by the captain and Matthew Hoggard, to whom wicketkeeper
Jones stood up to the stumps. To paraphrase Dr Johnson, I was not surprised to see it done, but would be surprised to see it done well. As for Harmison, it goes without saying that he will need to perform well in the first innings if England are to challenge for victory. I can't see Anderson or Giles doing much on the wicket in its present state.

Other observations

Should McGrath have played? No. Is he finished as a test bowler? After his Gabba performance I wouldn't write him off but his injury problems may make it hard for him to come back.

# Is Warne finished? No, but he shouldn't have to bowl so much (and so negatively).

# The balance of Australia's team is wrong. Four bowlers aren't enough given (1) the strength of the England batting and (2) the current standard of pitches. Michael Clarke is a Darren Lehmann-style batsman who can bowl a bit, then so are Andrew Symonds and Shane Watson. Perhaps a specialist bowler should be included with Brett Lee promoted to no 7.

# Brett Lee bowled better than his figures indicated. He's the type of bowler who will always concede runs but is always capable of taking a wicket against the run of the play.

# I need to revise my opinion of Richie Benaud's state of heaslth. Before the start of play he walked off the ground with a sprightliness which belied his years. Anyone who listens to him commenting on Channel 9 will know that he remains alert and incisive in his comments : truly the doyen of commentators.

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