Sunday, December 26, 2010

Miracle on the 3rd or 4th strip

"And what did you ask Santa to bring you for Christmas, daddy?"

And so it came to pass that during the night after Christmas a miracle came true in Melbourne. And, even better, Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook made 157 without loss by the close.

So much for the controversies about the groundsman swapping the pitches he would use. There was no devil in this wicket. In fact, while it had quite a green tinge on it, the condition generally was reminiscent of an early-season English wicket. Lovely, what a Christmas present.

I wonder whether Ricky Ponting would have bowled first if he had won the toss? He has never inserted an opponent since England made 400 in a day at Edgbaston 2005 and I suspect that he would have thought about bowling only to bat out of superstition.

Either way, England bowled beautifully and caught well (although they dropped three chances and missed a run out), while Australia's batsmen looked as if they had been at the port the night before. There were some very careless dismissals, for all the quality of England's bowling.

Yet, unlike in Perth, England's success came from them hitting the right length consistently. The fact that all ten of Australia's wickets were caught behind square, six by the wicketkeeper, shows that. Whatever was being said about England a week ago, they are fast learners.

It is hard to see them losing from here, although who knows in this baffling series. Momentum has not just swung back and forth this series, it has shaken. Instead of a close series in which matches are settled by millimetres, as it was in 2005, this is a close series in which matches are settled by miles. We walloped them in Adelaide, they thrashed us in Perth and now, again, it is no contest.

Australia will probably demolish England in Sydney next week, but that of course will all be a bit late.

This match is not yet won, however. England may start Day 2 59 runs ahead with all wickets in hand, but if Australia can take those ten wickets for 100, maybe even 150 runs, they can regain hope of winning. More likely, they will just have to resign themselves to a deficit of more than 300 and try to bat for more than two days to get a draw.

You would really have to fancy England now, though. Poor Ricky Ponting, who may have only three Test innings left in his marvellous career. How Australia could do with him raging against the dying of the light.

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