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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Australian bowling dominates early but England avoids knockout blow: Fifth Test Day 2

After another rain interrupted day in which 78.4 overs were bowled Australia, at 4/ 188, are less favourably placed than England were at stumps yesterday. Yet nobody seriously expects Australia to lose their last 6 wickets for 57 tomorrow, as England did today. Andrew Flintoff, out for 89, showed his full potential with the bat for the first time in the series and may be able to turn it on again in the second innings, provided he gets more substantial support from his lower order team mates who buckled against the Australian new ball attack (and Shane Warne's sole but significant 1,000th wicket in international cricket).

Why isn't Australia likely to fold? Because Michael Hussey, England's batting bogeyman of the series, is still there with 37 and looking comfortable; because Andrew Symonds has built a platform of 22 upon which he may be able to build tomorrow; and because the batsmen to come after them ought to be able to help their team to a modest, and maybe even a comfortable, first innings lead of 50 to 100.

This scenario might be amended by the England bowling, which today, at least in the persons of Messrs Harmison (pleasingly), Anderson (surprisingly) and Panesar (much as expected), was able to sustain pressure for longer periods than it had done for much of the series. The ground fielding was good, too, and Anderson's run out of Ricky Ponting for 45 was a pivotal moment (sure Ponting misjudged the situation but Anderson's throw under pressure was good and reminiscent of his throw from the deep in the tour match against South Australia which ran out Darren Lehmann going for his hundredth run). One potentially crucial gaffe was Andrew Strauss's failure to dive for a catch at short leg off Hussey: he's obviously not comfortable fielding there and he didn't touch the ball so it doesn't count as a chance but he should have observed the convention that short leg fielders should stay down for as long as possible.

My prediction that an England collapse this morning would allow Australia to get a firm grip on the game has been proved wrong - for the moment - by England's refreshing tenacity, which saw them recover to win two of the day's three disjointed sessions. England can't afford to have another bad session like this morning's: it can lose one (and just conceivably two) on points but must avoid the knockout punch which may come from either a significant Australian batting revival or another feeble batting performance.

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