Differences glaring on day two
IF you want to understand why the Ashes came home so quickly, look no further than the second day at the MCG.
On a murky morning Australia found themselves on the ropes. Their three premier batsmen of the series — Ricky Ponting, Mi c h a e l H u s s e y a n d Michael Clarke — all fell for low scores in quick succession.
These same men, who had swaggered their way to a collective 1300 runs and five centuries through the first three Tests, were shot out inside an hour for seven, six and five.
The declining sequence was ominous. The wicket was playing tricks and new batsman Andrew Symonds was crease-bound and prodding uncertainly.
England’s first-innings mark of 159 was looking more imposing by the moment.
But when all-out attack was required, England hesitated.
Bowlers with their tails up found themselves confronted by fields more in keeping with 5-384 than 5-84.
Gully was pushed back, slips were dispersed, pressure was eased.
As a captain, Andrew Flintoff has proved to be a sheep in lion’s clothing.
Who’d have suspected it when he was laying waste to Ponting’s side with bat and ball just over a year ago, or inspiring England to a remarkable victory in Mumbai to retrieve a lost cause?
The word is that Flintoff will happily hand back the reins the moment Michael Vaughan’s injured knee allows him to resume, and for England’s sake that can’t come soon enough.
The captaincy has robbed him of his spirit.
It doesn’t mean that everything that transpired to produce the second highest sixth-wicket partnership in Ashes history (only Sir Donald Bradman and Jack Fingleton are ahead) was England’s fault.
S y m o n d s l a b o u r e d through 20 balls before he scored and then, with Hayden encouraging him from the other end, began to construct the sort of innings few had thought him capable of.
Their partnership will be one of the cherished times of their careers.
For Hayden, who dropped a sitter at gully on Tuesday, it will head off thoughts that he should join Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath in the cricketers’ retirement home.
For Symonds, it has proved to himself and everyone else that he is, after all, a genuine Test cricketer.
And for Australia’s selectors, it will mean they can stop fretting over Shane Watson’s hamstring.