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Thursday, December 28, 2006

What are the next steps?: Fourth Test day 3

Yesterday morning, during a pre-play interview with Mark Nicholas, Glenn McGrath said that he was expecting not to have to bat that day. His wish/prediction came true.

Today his prediction took the form of advice to the commentators: pack your bags, because the match will be completed today. That also turned out to be correct.

Australia added 47 further runs to reach 419 all out . A big advance on 5/84 at one stage. England's initial resistance suggested a bit more guts and determination: Alistair Cook and Andrew Strauss survived the 12 overs to lunch and made 28 runs. The partnership eventually reached 41 before Stuart Clark bowled Cook off an inside edge. The floodgates then opened, with further wickets falling at 48 (Bell) , 49 (Pietersen, batting no 4 for the first time in the series, b Clark 1), 75 (Collingwood) , 90 (Strauss topscorer with 31), 108 (Flintoff), 109 (Mahmood completing a pair), 127 (Harmison), 146 (Panesar) and 161 (Hoggard). The pitch wasn't much if at all to blame: it was after all a third not a fifth day wicket, and Warne didn't turn the ball as much in the second as he did in the first innings. The Australians played on the mental frailties of the English: the bowling was superb. A special mention for Lee who has often been criticised in this and other series for poor returns, taking 4/47 from 18.5 overs.

By many criteria, not least the duration of the game, this was England's worst performance of the series to date. Even the Brisbane Test saw some signs of greater resolve from them in the last day and a half.

Yesterday I described England as being discombobulated by the turn around in Australia's performance. Perhaps I should have saved the term for today because it's even truer now than it was then.

As someone once said "the situation is hopeless, we must take the next steps". What should England's next steps be? The team and its management probably need at least a day or so to come up with some fresh ideas. So do I.

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