Close but no cigar

England have pulled it off. They have stared down the barrel of defeat but with a little rain, a little luck and a little grit, they have narrowly avoided a humiliating defeat. I imagine that England would be pretty chuffed with a humiliating draw. Under the circumstances, to go to Lord’s with the series nil all must be rather good for morale.

Disappointed Australians may feel miffed. What if Ponting had bowled the right bowlers? What if Collingwood have been claimed bat-pad early on? What if Billy Doctrove actually gave an lbw and had given Broad out first ball? It’s all easy in hindsight. The truth is that the wicket was less than helpful for the bowlers, the Aussies have an inexperienced attack and 9/252 was not a bad effort. The truth is that as time remaining tends towards zero, the muscles tense up. Many is the time that sides are inexplicably unable to take the final wicket. I seem to remember the boot being on the other foot four years ago in the 3rd Test.

The second Test starts at Lord’s on Thursday. It will be interesting to see what changes are made. Lord’s has been Australia’s domain forever. Sophia Gardens was supposed by many to be England’s best chance. But I reckon that if we come across a pitch with a bit of life, the Aussie batsmen may struggle. The Australian selectors still have a dilemma. Hauritz exceeded expectations in the 1st Test. I’m not saying that Hauritz will be the best choice for Lord’s but he has helped his own cause.

England will surely drop one of the spinners and we may even see a recall for Harmi. Who knows?

Around the traps, after narrowly losing the 1st Test to Sri Lanka, Pakistan have been skittled for just 90 in the first innings of the 2nd Test. Sri Lanka replied with 240 and Pakistan have exceeded their first innings total with just one wicket down. Exciting times.

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Close but no cigar

There is no game like cricket. Only cricket can produce a thrilling finish for a game that is not even completed – that is what a draw is after all. This series that continues to thrill and exceed all expectations has added to the list of great draws. Remember Border and Whit holding out Hadlee in 85-86? Border and Alderman keeping Marshall and Garner at bay in 84-85? And who could forget Slasher MacKay and Lindsay Kline in 1960-61? This was just as good in a whole day of drama.

Australia and England will both take some momentum and hope to Leeds. England, of course were the undeniable moral victors – without the loss of almost all of day three to rain, England most certainly would have won. And given the circumstances, Australia will feel as if they have won, having salvaged the situation for the match and the series. And even though they had assistance from weather, they did have to do some work themselves.

And now some random comments and observations:

1. My father-in-law called me at 2:10 am to see if I was watching. What a father-in-law. By the way, the answer was no.

2. The Aussie batsmen have real worries. They have two in form and it must be a worry that one of them is the number 8. Aside from Ponting’s magnificent, match saving innings and Warne’s 90, there were no other innings on the right side of 40. The reason can only be the quality of the attack. The Aussies have not had to cope with such relentless pressure for a long, long time and they seem not to be able to dig deep enough to build a big innings. The reverse swing is killing them. Langer’s 82 in the 2nd Test was what is needed. I think at least one batsman will go. Probably Katich, assuming that Clarke recovers. The left handers are really struggling, particularly against Flintoff and another right hander might be the go.

3. Flintoff’s working over of Hayden was one of the great pieces of bowling. Having bowled pearler after jaffa outside off stump, he speared one into leg stump. Perfect. This ball immediately followed the graph on TV that plotted each ball from Flintoff to Hayden – every single one was outside off stump. What a set up.

4. Dizzie is gone. It must be obvious.

5. The England top three all have some runs on the board now. And Australia have themselves to blame – key innings for all of those guys could have been avoided by holding their chances.

6. Harmison’s figures for the past two matches are 4-224 (ave 56.00). He didn’t take a wicket in either first innings. I’m not making much of that except to say that it didn’t matter. There were other guys to do the job, most notably Jones and Flintoff.

7. Pietersen could not catch a cold in Antarctica. For that matter, the catching by both sides for the whole Test was pretty poor. Some good catches were taken, no doubt but my goodness some went down.

8. While Australia was never in danger of winning, 9/371 was a seriously good effort for a 4th innings. With tons of luck.

9. McGrath may not have realised his ambition to hit the winning runs in a Test match but this may be the closest he gets to being a hero with the bat. England must have been cursing an easy single to McGrath from the 4th last ball.

10. Harmison bowled a very average last over. Perhaps the Welshman should have had the cherry.

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