Did someone say a five day Test?

As we would all know, Australia has won the fourth Ashes Test to take a 4-0 nil in the five Test series. The Aussies knocked over the 107 runs required on the fifth morning – and not before some drama! Australia didn’t quite reach panic stations but there was quite some excitement before Gilchrist smashed the winning boundary high over point. More on the last morning later. I’m not doing a match recap but will list a few points of interest.

Scores were: Aust 6 dec/551, Eng 270, End 387, Aust 5/107

First innings highlights for Australia were Matt Hayden making yet another century (103) before holing out in what is becoming a worrying
trademark. And of course, Big JL making 250. It gives me some pleasure to see Langer add another fine achievement to his CV – it is hard to imagine a harder working, better natured, more humble player.

When England slumped to 6-118 in their reply, the prospects of another
three day Test loomed large. England didn’t avoid the follow on but the last four wickets added 152 runs which is a big improvement on the previous achievements of the English tail this summer. This was lead by a fine innings of 85* from Craig White, which followed his four wickets in the Australian innings – maybe there is some potential for him as a Test all rounder!

Steve Waugh enforced the follow on. Once gain, there was much debate as to whether he should have. In the end all was well but not without a struggle. I think Australia should have batted for three hours, scored 200 and declared 480 in front. Australia’s bowling assault had lost momentum by the end of the innings, the great McGrath was struggling and more resistance could be expected from the English batsmen, who, for the most part had brought about their own undoing. That is why I think Australia should have batted again. And I can recall a man called Laxman. But Steve Waugh could rightly claim that England has no Laxman. Or Dravid. Or Tendulkar. And that they are not playing at home.

England may not have a Laxman but they do have a Michael Vaughan – and what a player he is. England could well do with another four of him. They may then draw some matches. But they will need some bowlers before they can beat Australia. England came to Australia with two batsmen with big reputations. High hopes were held for the openers, Vaughan and Trescothick. Trescothick has disappointed but Vaughan has shone, completing a record breaking year. And he doesn’t just make big scores – he scores quickly and powerfully. His 145 in the second innings of this match was every bit as good his 177 in Adelaide. In fact, he didn’t look like getting out until he did (in a over which had already seen and four and a six).

MacGill took 5-152 in he English second innings but was not impressive. There is a long gap between MacGill and Warne at present – far more so than about three years ago. It will be interesting to see how MacGill does in Sydney. The long bowl should have done him good. He hasn’t done a lot of bowling this summer.

McGrath struggled and it has now been revealed that he had a back injury and will miss the Sydney Test, which will see Australia play the match without their two best bowlers.

It was somewhat of a relief to see Nassar Hussain dismissed in a
non-controversial way. The third umpire was not even required. Even
though he spooned a McGrath slower ball back for a simple caught and
bowled, I still half expected to see Hussain lingering at the crease
rubbing his shoulder. Or elbow. Or thigh.

Which brings us to the final day. Matt Hayden faced just two balls in the second innings. The first was hit for a single just before stumps on day four. The second was the first ball of the fifth morning which he skyed to backward square and was caught.

Ponting blazed a quick 30 to set Australia well on the way but his end saw the start of an interesting passage of play. Martyn was out in the same over for a third ball duck. He was very tentative and seemed to have a desire to relive the memories of Sydney in 1993-94 when Australia failed to make 111 to defeat the South Africans. Martyn’s infamous dismissal in that Test was his last Test innings for seven long years!

Enter Steve Waugh with his head on the block (despite a belligerent first innings 77) and with a notoriously bad fourth innings record. When Steve Waugh made 57 against NZ last year, I was surprised to learn that was his first fourth innings 50 (and I seem to recall that when he was on about 7, he was given not out caught behind when he had clearly hit the ball). Looking back through Waugh’s fourth innings record, I found that he was very much a single figures man!

With Steve Harmison finally bowling like he meant it, Waugh got a real
working over. One over in particular was one of the most bizarre ever seen in Test cricket. Three consecutive balls were as follows:

A regulation outside edge was taken by the ‘keeper and incredibly there was no appeal. Foster, the ‘keeper in just his 7th Test (where he had
acquitted himself well), seemed in no doubt. His initial reaction was to shape to throw the ball into the air and go the big shout. However, nobody else appealed and he seemed to check himself – it would be embarrassing to be appealing all on your own in your first Test against the old enemy! And it gets better. A confused and perturbed Foster watched the replay on the scoreboard and then appealed. Not Out.

The next ball was smashed towards cover by Waugh. A diving Hussain took a smart catch and there was jubilation all round. Until it was noticed that the umpires right arm was out. Steve Waugh was retrieved from the long walk back to the rooms.

To put the icing on the cake, the next ball was driven off the back foot (of course), straight down the ground for four.

Waugh made 14 before edging to second slip. Next over Langer was given lbw to a ball pitching well outside leg stump. The ball was clearly hitting the stumps but it seems to be common sense that if a right arm bowler, bowling over the wicket to a left hander, bowls an off cutter (an off cutter to a right handed batsman) which hits in line with middle and leg, the ball MUST have pitched outside leg.

The umpiring in this match was poor indeed. Trescothick received a
dreadful lbw and I can’t recall seeing so many caught behinds not given in a single match. There were at least four. It’s just as well the umpires were neutral or they would have been labelled cheats (even though the bad decisions were fairly evenly shared)!

Love and Gilchrist then saw Australia home.

Love had a good match with 62* in the first dig and took four good catches at slip. He is in another class of slipper to Warne and Martyn and will be a welcome addition when he joins the team full time for the series in the West Indies. OK, enough said already about Steve Waugh. My tip is that the axe will fall. The selectors have given Steve enough hints to retire gracefully and I think that he will accept the opportunity.

Happy New Year!

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