Rain intervention and Clarke’s brilliance

Published : Aug 15, 2009 00:00 IST

Michael Clarke, a cherubic young man waiting to step into Ricky Ponting’s shoes, concentrated so hard that he was able to bat all the final day. By Ted Corbett.

England forced Australia to bat defensively all through the final day of the third Test at Edgbaston, which ended in a draw. Andrew Strauss’s men maintained the 1-0 lead and all the Australians can say is that they had the better of the two drawn games and should have won the first Test.

England felt confident enough to permit Ricky Ponting — backed by the match referee Geoff Crowe — to change his side after the official hand-over of team sheets so that Brad Haddin, who had broken his finger while his captain was at the toss, was replaced by Graham Manou, who made his Test debut.

Match referee or no match referee Strauss would have been within his rights to say no. He earned enormous praise — in a country where we celebrate defeats in battle, clever retreats and the work of a nurse Florence Nightingale as we were being given the Mother of All Thrashing by the Russians — for his gesture and for that decision alone he did not deserve to be the captain of the losing side.

Strauss is not a tactical genius like Michael Vaughan or Mike Brearley, not a cheer leader in the same class as Ian Botham and certainly far from as innovative as Douglas Jardine. But he stays cool under fire, he is ready to make changes at the last minute and he speaks from the heart.

So, two days before the battle began he said that Australia no longer had the aura they achieved in the days of Shane Warne and other such great warriors and that they did not cause England attacks of the vapours.

I would, however, hate to back England if the Australian luck changed.

Just consider. They have had to send Andrew Symonds home because his drinking — a couple of glasses in a sports bar is hardly the slippery slope to the gutter, is it? — offended their code of clean living.

A phalanx of great stars from Warne to Glenn McGrath to Matthew Hayden to Justin Langer have left the scene. They have had no use out of Brett Lee who is still not sure to have recovered sufficiently to play in the series and Mitchell Johnson has bowled as if he did not wish to show up the third Boy Scouts XI who had called on him to make up their numbers.

They have also — without public complaints I have to say — shed their wish to discuss how short a time the parents of the England players were friends before their birth, and a set of umpiring decisions that must make them wish sledging the umpires was a positive part of MCC’s Spirit of Cricket.

Instead of whinging they have got on with their own plans, refused to be drawn into controversy and generally behaved — I don’t believe I am writing this — as if they were first class English gentlemen straight from Eton or Harrow.

It was never part of Ian Chappell’s strategic thinking.

I salute that side of their game. I am happy to do this because it enables me to say that Australia are not half the side that England are.

Strauss’s men have their own problems. Andrew Flintoff — you can sometimes see it in his movement, more often in his face — is not fully fit and clearly ready to retire after five years tip-toeing from specialist to physio to rehab guru.

Freddie, blessed, jovial giant of a cricketer who makes one’s day every time he laughs at those who cannot play his cannonball deliveries, has not made a big song and dance about the misery he must have suffered.

Instead he told everyone within listening distance that he was off at the end of the series and then got on with playing.

He performed carefully in the first Test, he won the second with a whole-hearted attack that cut down the middle of the Australian second innings and in the third Test he reminded us that greatness does not just consist of the ability to play the leg glance and the off drive.

It is also the strength of personality that says to the rest of the team: “Follow me, lads and we will win this match.” They drew instead but that was not Flintoff’s fault.

His first innings at Edgbaston was a reminder of what we will miss when he quits proper cricket for the T20, when he is no longer around to tell us in that warm, growling Lancashire accent, that all is right with the world so long as big Freddie is there to push the score into overdrive.

Most of the first day went missing in the rain but when the Test began at close to supper time Australia appeared to have stolen a march with a hatful of runs that threatened to be the bedrock for a big score.

Along came a quiet guy, an English sportsman from his tight lips to his anxious expression, to tear through their higher order by taking wickets with his first two balls the next morning.

Graham Onions, who must be the ultimate thin fast bowler, hacked into their batting line-up until Strauss called up James Anderson, another man of few words to finish off the innings with five wickets.

Anderson has been referred to as “young Jimmy” for so long it has sunk into the folklore of the nation that here is cricket’s Peter Pan.

This summer he has shed his school blazer, found a few well-chosen remarks with which to undermine the sledging-shy Aussies and proceeded to rip their batsmen to shreds.

Here’s a funny bit of the Strauss captaincy style.

When none of his seam bowlers could prise out an Australian on the evening of the first day he suddenly remembered Graham Swann, a seriously funny man who bowls off breaks when he is not taking part in interviews.

Swann immediately got a wicket — and never bowled in the innings again. What’s to criticise when you bowl a side out for 269?

England gained a first innings lead of 113 and we thought — poor naive innocents that we are — that England might win.

Instead Michael Clarke, a cherubic young man waiting to step into Ricky Ponting’s shoes now that Ponting has overtaken Allan Border’s record as the greatest run-scorer for Australia, concentrated so hard that he was able to bat all the final day.

Now we wait to see whether if Australia have a minimum of good fortune England can still grab back the Ashes.


Third Test, Edgbaston, July 30-August 3, 2009. Match drawn.

Australia — 1st innings: S. Watson lbw b Onions 62; S. Katich lbw b Swann 46; R. Ponting c Prior b Onions 38; M. Hussey b Onions 0; M. Clarke lbw b Anderson 29; M. North c Prior b Anderson 12; G. Manou b Anderson 8; M. Johnson lbw b Anderson 0; N. Hauritz (not out) 20; P. Siddle c Prior b Anderson 13; B. Hilfenhaus c Swann b Onions 20; Extras (b-5, lb-7, w-2, nb-1) 15. Total: 263.

Fall of wickets: 1-85, 2-126, 3-126, 4-163, 5-193, 6-202, 7-202, 8-203, 9-229.

England bowling: Anderson 24-7-80-5; Flintoff 15-2-58-0; Onions 16.4-2-58-4; Broad 13-2-51-0; Swann 2-0-4-1.

England — 1st innings: A. Strauss c Manou b Hilfenhaus 69; A. Cook c Manou b Siddle 0; R. Bopara b Hilfenhaus 23; I. Bell lbw b Johnson 53; P. Collingwood c Ponting b Hilfenhaus 13; M. Prior c sub b Siddle 41; A. Flintoff c Clarke b Hauritz 74; S. Broad c & b Siddle 55; G. Swann c North b Johnson 24; J. Anderson c Manou b Hilfenhaus 1; G. Onions (not out) 2; Extras (b-2, lb-4, w-6, nb-9) 21. Total: 376.

Fall of wickets: 1-2, 2-60, 3-141, 4-159, 5-168, 6-257, 7-309, 8-348, 9-355.

Australia bowling: Hilfenhaus 30-7-109-4; Siddle 21.3-3-89-3; Hauritz 18-2-57-1; Johnson 21-1-92-2; Watson 3-0-23-0.

Australia — 2nd innings: S. Watson c Prior b Anderson 53; S. Katich c Prior b Onions 26; R. Ponting b Swann 5; M. Hussey c Prior b Broad 64; M. Clarke (not out) 103; M. North c Anderson b Broad 96; G. Manou (not out) 13; Extras (b-4, lb-6, w-2, nb-3) 15. Total (for five wkts.) 375.

Fall of wickets: 1-47, 2-52, 3-137, 4-161, 5-346.

England bowling: Anderson 21-8-47-1; Flintoff 15-0-35-0; Onions 19-3-74-1; Swann 31-4-119-1; Broad 16-2-38-2; Bopara 8.2-1-44-0; Collingwood 2-0-8-0.

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