Australia march towards regaining Ashes

Matthew Varghese

(Sorry, this article is dated. We will get out of this time machine soon!)

Skipper ‘Freddie’ Flintoff might be ruing his decision to declare England’s first innings at 551/6 on Day 2 of the Test match against Australia at The Gabba Oval, Brisbane. Victory too might have been in sight when Australia were reduced to 3-65. However, Ricky Ponting’s men, galvanised by a great century from the man himself, overcame the initial hiccups, then bowled England out for a low score, successfully chased what seemed to be token runs for the formidable batting line-up, and in the process took the best team in the world closer to avenging a loss that will remain a blot on an otherwise phenomenal record.

England will need an even greater effort now than last year’s Ashes triumph to manage to retain the coveted trophy. They will regret missing the opportunity they had in this match; but the team can be credited with bouncing back after the thrashing they received in the first Test. Australia seem to have the Ashes in the bag; though they will be perturbed over the failures of Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer and Damien Martyn. It looks like that Australia will continue with six specialist batsmen or five with all-rounder Shane Watson replacing Martyn, but it remains to be seen if England finally play left-arm spinner Monty Panesar. More so if the English bowlers can bowl out the likes of Ponting, Hussey, Clarke and Co. twice in five days.

On Tuesday, the final day of the Test match, England collapsed to 129 all out. Leg-spinner Shane Warne made a remarkable comeback after a disappointing return of 1-169 in the first innings, picking up 4-27 in a continuous 26-over spell. Warne also had the last laugh in his duel with England’s Kevin Pietersen, bowling him round the legs. Paul Collingwood, who had scored a double century in the first innings, braved the Australian attack to avoid an imminent defeat but in vain. Opener Andrew Strauss and one-drop Ian Bell made 34 and 26 respectively. Strauss was out to a dubious decision whereas Bell was run out in a mix-up with Collingwood; Warne’s magic causing confusion in the England ranks.

Australia needed 168 in 36 overs post-tea to take a 2-0 lead in the series; 39 runs being the lead they conceded in the first innings. Langer’s second-ball boundary off Hoggard in the first over made intentions clear. Ten runs were knocked off in the first over itself, and the game took on the atmosphere of a one-day international. Hoggard and Flintoff managed to restrict Australia to 2-33 after six overs, with both openers Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer falling cheaply once again.

Michael Hussey, promoted to No.4 ahead of Damien Martyn, joined captain Ricky Ponting at the crease. Hussey, the ICC ODI Player of the Year, strung together a partnership of 83, before Ponting fell for 49 to Ashley Giles. Damien Martyn got out cheaply for 5. However, both the Michaels – Clarke, the first innings centurion and Hussey, who had made 91- guided the ‘Baggy greens’ to a six-wicket victory. Ricky Ponting was declared the ‘Player of the match’ for his 142 and 49 apart from running out Pietersen in the first innings. Pietersen equalled his best; this being the third time he has got out on the score of 158.

England next play a one-day game against the Cricket Australia Chairman’s XI at Lilac Hill on Friday followed by a two-day match starting Saturday against Western Australia at the WACA, Perth. Michael Vaughan, the successful Ashes skipper last year, might feature in the two-day game. However, England coach Duncan Fletcher has ruled out the possibility of Vaughan playing the Third Test at Perth, which commences on December 14, as he is doubtful if Vaughan has regained full fitness following a knee surgery.


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