Is this Adelaide 2006? Day two at Old Trafford

Australia 527-7 dec. England 52-2

Do you remember that all-important third test seven years ago? We were 0-2 down in the series. Freddie won a crucial toss on a good pitch; England batted brilliantly (with the much maligned Paul Collingwood scoring a double ton) and we declared with the score on 551 late on the second day.

At stumps we had dismissed Justin Langer cheaply, and our bowlers were all over the Aussies like chicken pox. The next morning we reduced them to 60 odd for 3. All the momentum was ours; and all the talk was about how the useless Poms were finally back in the series.

What happened next will go down in infamy. The Aussies counter-attacked; Punter made a huge ton; Clarke also scored a century (you can tell where this is going, right) and the home team were eventually all out for just twenty or thirty runs short of England’s total. Our batsmen, who were short on confidence at the time, then folded meekly in the second innings and left the door open for Australia.

If only Freddie had declared a little bit later in the first innings with 600+ on the board. The Aussie bowlers were on their knees at the time, but – and this is a big ‘but’ – England were chasing the series. They needed to give themselves enough time to bowl Australia out twice. England’s declaration was therefore a bit generous. As generous as 527? We’ll see.

Of course, this is all probably pie in the sky. Nathan Lyon was getting quite a lot of spin late in the day, and Alastair Cook – our key batsmen who looks so composed when he’s in form, but so utterly dreadful when he’s out of it – was scratching around like a blind rodent in a U-bend. The signs are not good, but who knows. Let’s pray this is Adelaide 2006 in reverse.

However, perhaps we need not fret. Apart from the ball from Siddle that removed Root, this pitch has nothing in it for the seamers. Spin will be the key – and the threat posed by Lyon was probably exaggerated by the fact he was bowling with a new nut. Full marks to Michael Clarke for an inspired piece of captaincy. The extra turn and bounce was extremely notable.

If only England’s plans were so flexible. Andy Flower has done a lot of English cricket, but consistently relying on line and length to ‘create pressure’ against good batsmen on true pitches is not one of them. Shane Warne made the point that England showed no imagination whatsoever in the field – and not for the first time, Warney was right.

We would normally have a good grumble about this (and go on about traditional English conservatism holding the team back) but there’s no point. Just Google any number of the TFT articles about our bowling performances against South Africa last summer; or indeed, any of the articles that praised Strauss’ tenure as skipper, but argued the time was right for a fresh approach. It’s a shame that fresh start that never materialised; England under Cook are exactly the same team.

So what can we expect tomorrow? I’m too frightened to look into the future I’m afraid. The temptation to hide behind the sofa for most of the day, then look at the score hopefully at 6.30pm, is almost too strong.

One thing’s for sure, however. There’s bound to be yet more umpiring controversy. The dismissal of nightwatchman Tim Bresnan, right at the end of the day, was another absolute stinker. What’s worse, Bressie obviously felt that reviewing the on-field umpire’s decision was a gamble in itself. Just like us fans, the players obviously have no faith that the men operating DRS are capable of making the right decisions. Oh what a can of worms.

I’ll leave you with one related thought: the Aussies might appear to have suffered at the hands of the umpires most in this series, but this impression is false.

Australia have suffered the two highest profile blunders – the Broad incident at Trent Bridge and the Khawaja farce one day one at Old Trafford – but England have suffered more howlers. Steve Smith was out two or three times before he was finally dismissed yesterday – playing the kind of shot Smith is renowned for – and the diabolical decision against Bresnan late in the day made it 3-1.

I can’t remember what role the umpires played at Adelaide in 2006, but I bet they didn’t influence proceedings this much. Hopefully the luck will even out over the series. At the moment, both teams feel cheated.

James Morgan


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