ENGLAND got beta-plus for their bowling and alpha-plus for their superb ground fielding on the first day of this Test but they will surely not win the game, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.
A draw may be another matter but as far as the Ashes are concerned, the die was probably cast the moment that Mark Taylor emulated F S Jackson and won the toss for the fifth time in a row. It certainly was by lunchtime, when Taylor and Matthew Elliott had put on 84 on a pitch as flawless as a diamond.
One could almost hear the lugubrious tones of Private Fraser in the dressing-room as the England players filed wearily in after a morning of unrewarded toil in muggy heat and beneath an azure sky. ``We're doomed, Mainwaring, doomed.''
To their credit, Captain Atherton and his platoon were not prepared to accept it but Australia are 302 for three. Their first four batsmen all got to 50 and with the Waugh brothers in firm and felicitous control so far in a partnership of 77, it will take an inspirational piece of bowling by someone with the second new ball this morning if England are not to begin their reply in the sure and certain knowledge that a draw must be the limit of their ambitions.
Both Adam and Ben Hollioake duly won their first Test caps when the decision was taken, despite the broiling weather, to leave the unfortunate Phil Tufnell out of the final XI once more. There was just sufficient movement off the seam on a beautifully even pitch of reasonable pace to justify the decision, given the alternatives. Tufnell and Robert Croft, bowling in harness for long periods as they might have done, would surely have commanded respect but it would be pushing the case to suggest that they would have been any more venomous than three specialist fast bowlers in the conditions and it was unrealistic for Ben Hollioake to be used as the third seamer.
As it was, he took his first Test wicket with the first ball of his seventh over after his initial three-over spell had cost him 23 runs. He bowled with sufficient life to suggest that on faster or greener surfaces than this he will have his days of bowling glory, but he is a tyro and if England were to overcome the ill fortune of losing both Darren Gough and the toss, Devon Malcolm needed to make an immediate improvement on his horrible past record of five for 320 at Trent Bridge.
He did his best, bowling quickly in all his spells, getting an occasional ball to swing away and straying in length or line far less often than he sometimes has. The cracking square cut which gave Steve Waugh his sixth four in the final over of the day was, however, the defining moment. It is a ground which has never allowed bowlers much margin for error. When Denis Compton, the first of the three teenagers to have won England caps, made his first century here in 1938, it was part of a total of 658 for eight, and little has changed. England were not going to bowl out Australia on this pitch any more than they were last year when India's first-day score on the way to 521 was 287 for two.
They had little luck. In the fourth over, Dean Headley must have been close to claiming Elliott lbw when he padded up to a straight ball which might just have gone over the stumps and in the eighth, Elliott played a dead bat to a ball which bounced back inches over the bails. Taylor, when 18, looked leg-before, again to Headley, when he played outside a ball which straightened.
These were crumbs of comfort offering little sustenance. Andrew Caddick, swinging the ball from a sensible length which only occasionally became too full, had his moments, too, but the two left-handers did just the job that was required. Theirs was admirably professional, no-nonsense batting in heaven-sent circumstances. Elliott, in particular, began to drive with imposing grandeur as Australia made 52 in the second hour of the morning and he had hit 10 fours when in the 10th over of the afternoon he got an inside edge to an inswinger from Headley and was very well caught by Alec Stewart, low to his right.
If that was mildly suprising to Australia's captain, it was nothing compared with the shock when an inswinger of perfect length from Caddick burst through his drive at a time when his second century of the series was looking almost a formality. Taylor had started to play formidably well and if this is to be his last Test series, his stature as a batsman, let alone an intuitive captain, is assured. At 61, he became the sixth Australian - after Allan Border, Greg Chappell, Don Bradman, Neil Harvey and David Boon - to score 6,000 Test runs.
Caddick took his wicket soon after the Duke ball had been changed, at 143. It was the first time a ball has gone out of shape all series but this is, by some distance, the hardest pitch. In the early stages of their partnership of 65, Greg Blewett and Mark Waugh both played and missed more than their colleagues, but they hit some beautiful strokes, too. Over-confidence did for Blewett as he tried to run a short ball pitched just outside his off-stump to third-man and was skilfully caught by Stewart, diving right.
Adam Hollioake might have taken a maiden wicket on the same day as his brother had Stewart been able to gather an inswinger which bounced awkwardly as Mark Waugh over-balanced, but the brief battle of the brothers was otherwise won by the Waughs on points. Australia as a team have not lost a round since Edgbaston in June.
Day 2: Warne steps in to cast shadow over England's day in the sun
THE combination of a good pitch, Australia's natural aggression and England's need to win, or to accept that the quest for the Ashes has finally failed, is producing an absolute humdinger of a Test match, the very opposite of the archetypal dull Test draw, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.
A draw it may yet be but in torpid, shirt-clinging, 90 degree heat which must soon be relieved by thunderstorms, England dominated the greater part of the second day before Shane Warne reacted to the challenge like the conqueror he is.
Thanks largely to his 22 overs of wonderfully accurate leg-spin from the Radcliffe Road End, it is Australia, once again, who hold the aces. No wonder there is a Dutch auction going on for his services as a county cricketer next season. However, rumours that Lancashire had joined the hunt were denied by a spokesman for the club last night, who confirmed that Wasim Akram is contracted for next year.
Six-and-a-half hours of thrust and counter-thrust saw Australia descend from 311 for three to 427 all out and England from 106 for no wicket to 141 for four before Adam Hollioake and Graham Thorpe - the latter within an inch of being run out before he had scored - played through the last 15 overs of the day.
England are still 40 runs away from avoiding the possibility of having to follow-on but even if they were to collapse this morning Mark Taylor would be unlikely to ask them to do so.
It was Warne and his ally Ian Healy, sharp as a pair of pickpockets in a tightly-packed crowd, who restored the initiative which Australia had so clearly held at the start of the day. But for two hours of the hot afternoon Alec Stewart's bold and clinical batting had hinted at something glorious. Shrugging off the inconvenience of not being able to put his feet up after 121 overs and five balls of intense concentration behind the stumps, this boldest and brightest of cricketers made 87 from a mere 32 overs.
Undaunted by Australia's overnight total of 302 for three, England's three fast bowlers hustled through Australia's last seven wickets for 125 before Stewart, in the company of a secure but subdued Mike Atherton, led the response with lance to the fore and banner unfurled. They went past 100 for the fourth time in their 36 opening partnerships together for England before Warne found the captain's outside edge with a leg-break and then tilted Stewart from his steed to sound the counter-attack.
Driving and hooking boldly past attacking fields, Stewart had reached 50 off only 69 balls and 87 off 107, with 13 fours, four of them in one over from Jason Gillespie before tea which cost 18. Taylor could delay the entry of Warne no further and although it was seven overs before he made his breakthrough, England lost four wickets in 12 overs.
This was the Australians showing how very good they are. Not only did Warne spin a leg-break past Nasser Hussain, England's highest scorer in the series, but Glenn McGrath, having conceded only two runs an over even against the marauding Stewart - half what Devon Malcolm had allowed the Australians - produced a deadly lifter into John Crawley's ribs after an hour's calm batting.
Caught off his glove by Healy, diving left, Crawley walked back before a rapt but silent crowd, who knew that much good work by the home side had probably come to nought.
For the second day running they had been a real cricket crowd and they were all in their seats at 11 o'clock as England, the new ball only seven overs old, started with their two most likely bowlers, Dean Headley and Andrew Caddick.
They responded encouragingly well, despite Caddick's continuing inconsistency of line and length. He had been glanced to leg for a brace of fours by Mark Waugh before the second of two impassioned lbw appeals was answered in the affirmative by umpire Shepherd. Waugh may just be starting to regret his remarks before the tour about England being such a soft touch.
Headley followed this early success by bowling Ricky Ponting off the face of a limp bat, whereupon Healy played a hectic little innings during which he was struck painfully on the arm by Caddick and then became the first of three wickets before lunch for Malcolm.
For once the shame of not being given the new ball goaded Derbyshire's giant in the right way. His three wickets were taken with off stump balls of full length, Healy caught at second slip, Warne at first and, most prized wicket of them all, Steve Waugh bowled by an unplayable ball which left him off a length.
He had cut brilliantly again yesterday morning and 52 of his 75 came from boundaries. Paul Reiffel again played some fierce off-side strokes but Headley finished the job by taking the last two wickets after lunch, the first with an outswinger, the second an inswinger.
Such movement did not bode well when England started their reply 45 minutes into the afternoon but Atherton and Stewart needed luck only in Reiffel's testing first few overs and soon Stewart was taking command as the innings unfolded in cricket of almost suffocating intensity.
If England lose, as a shade of odds suggests they will, they can be pleased at least that they have forced the world champions to raise their game. They may yet do more than that if Thorpe and Hollioake can get through the first hour today and bat as well as they did yesterday afternoon.
Thorpe might have been run out by a throw from Gillespie at mid-on had the television replay been conclusive but apart from a few anxious moments against Warne, the Surrey pair have so far played with admirable composure.
Day 3: England find some fight at last
By Scyld Berry
Australia (427 & 167-4) lead England (313) by 281 runs
THE Australians have always had it in mind to visit Ireland before the sixth Cornhill Test, provided they have the Ashes secured by then. Now it looks as though they will be off to Northern Ireland straight after this match, to Londonderry, where 'Irish eyes' will be smiling as well as their own.
England have fought pugnaciously, which they did not do at Old Trafford and especially at Headingley, but here they are being overwhelmed by a superior force. No questions should be asked if England lose and go to the Oval 3-1 down, no inquests held if they cannot bat out the last day and more. Sheer weight of talent has shaped this game, and Australia's luck in batting first on the friendliest pitch of the series.
Certainly Mike Atherton should not hold himself responsible if England go down again. England's spirit has been as buoyant as could be, the bowling always spirited, even if Ben Hollioake's has been out of its depth. England must have known that the game, and the Ashes, had gone as soon as they lagged 114 runs behind on first innings, but they did not wilt - like they had at Headingley - as Australia extended their lead to 281.
England's batting was spirited, too, as England's six overnight wickets added 125 more runs. Graham Thorpe and Adam Hollioake shared a century stand and the tail performed for once. But there were no easy runs to be had, no easy bowlers; no overs of medium-pace from Saurav Ganguly as the Trent Bridge Test saw last year when England scored more than 500; no spell of Carl Hooper off-spin; no filling in by Nathan Astle or Hansie Cronje.
The brute reality that faced England yesterday - and will face again some time today - was Shane Warne from the Radcliffe Road end, almost without relent, while three high-class seamers charged at them from the pavilion.
It was mainly Glenn McGrath and Warne who broke them, for Mark Taylor worked them as Atherton could not work strike bowlers, if he had any, lest the counties complain about over-use.
Just to tease, as they had done at Old Trafford and Headingley, the Australians revealed a glimpse of human weakness before slamming the door in England's face. At the outset Steve Waugh at gully dropped Graham Thorpe, the ball carrying less quickly than he had expected; and the bowler, McGrath, had already misfielded himself at ground level to concede a single.
Whatever the power is that stopped Australia sliding into a sloppy session from that early point, England do not have the formula. A word or gesture from Taylor may have contributed but so too an inner desire not to let down team-mates. In any event, McGrath himself re-set the tone by diving full-length at deep backward square to turn four runs into two, and never again did Australia lapse. Their cricketers seem to have the same autonomous strength as Australian states in keeping themselves up to the mark, without dictate from the centre.
So it was that when England made their advance, their opponents were ready to parry then repulse. The better for a week off, Thorpe pulled and hooked McGrath, but he cannot counter-attack to the full when he has only the tail to come. His position is No 4, as surely as Adam Hollioake's should be six in the West Indies.
There was no hint of one-day cricket about Hollioake senior's batting. More than that he is demonstrably able to learn the Test match game. Self-confessedly poor against spin until a hundred at Southend last season, against Peter Such and John Childs, here he was calmly blocking Warne or even cover-driving him.
When the elder Hollioake edged to second slip, a forced error, in the same over that he had pulled a six, and his younger brother set forth for his debut innings, a police car drove down the Radcliffe Road lending its siren to the urgency of the moment - if England were ever to regain the Ashes in this millennium, Surrey's sixth-wicket pair had to make some miracle.
But no sooner had the siren gone then Thorpe had too, caught off a glove at short-leg, the legbreak bouncing as an offbreak does not.
For England's last four wickets, the addition of 70 runs was a major feat. A few innings by Dominic Cork, and 31 by Croft at Christchurch, have been the only contributions of substance since the series against India. This time, like yet another county bidding for his services next season, Croft went after Warne, and hit 17 runs off him before falling victim to the short ball.
Ben Hollioake confirmed his supreme talent as a stroke-player with some rippling drives, but he bore a one-day trait of attempting to score off every ball at which he played. At present he would fancy batting against his own bowling too, but as yet no damage has been done by his premature exposure.
So forthrightly did the Australians add to their lead that the crowd lost its voice until John Crawley roused them with his diving catch off Elliott's hook.
Taylor got his offside game together for the first time in the series before mishooking; Greg Blewett made the same sort of mistake, and Mark Waugh was given leg-before to Dean Headley, England's best bowler, though Caddick has not lacked for heart, nor anyone else.
McGrath, who finished with four wickets, believes Warne is set for a memorable performance over the next two days. ``Warney on a wicket taking turn has the potential to take eight or nine wickets, so he is very much a matchwinner,'' he said. ``He's always dangerous when the bowler at the other end is keeping a tight line and length.''
A few wickets this morning would make it interesting but do little more than tease again. England will have to chase more than 300 against Warne, and Australia are Ireland-bound.
As the song almost says:
In the lilt of Irish laughter
You can hear the Aussies sing.
Day 4: Atherton's reign near to end after futile quest for Ashes
Australia (427 & 336) beat England (313 & 186) by 264 runs
``C'EST magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre,'' said a certain Marechal Bosquet of the charge of the Light Brigade. England went magnificently enough to their death on the fourth afternoon at Nottingham yesterday, invited to do so by the attacking fields and constantly challenging bowling of the Australians, and the approach, personified by Graham Thorpe's brilliant 82 not out, was splendidly entertaining for the fourth successive capacity crowd, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.
Alas, the way that England played in being bowled out in the second to last over of the extra half hour to lose the match, the series and the Ashes in one vainglorious and lemming-like dash to destruction, was wholly out of keeping with the gritty traditions of Anglo-Australian cricket. ``I want them to die for their country,'' said Lord MacLaurin of the attitude he hoped to see from the national team. But sane men do not go frivolously to their death. This was a reckless display which allowed Australia to take their hitherto hard-earned prize far too easily.
England might have helped them by their lack of backbone yesterday and last Thursday's toss was certainly an unlucky one for Mike Atherton to have lost, but it was the sheer quality of Australia's cricket all-round which swamped them in the end. Edgbaston, and the national euphoria which followed, was a cruel delusion, although it was brought about by genuine enough cricket from England. For Australians it was merely, as they would say, ``a hurry-up''. Mark Taylor said that he had never seen his side bowl so badly as they did then.
Since then this strong character, decent man and wholly admirable cricketer has led them to one triumph after another, prolonging his own reign as a Test captain but bringing Mike Atherton's to an end. Having been appointed by the selectors for the full series, Atherton reiterated his intention to captain England for the 46th time at the Oval next week but had nothing to add to the weekend statement which followed the meeting last Thursday night with Lord MacLaurin, chairman of the ECB, and other members of England's ``management and organisation''.
It now seems certain that Atherton will resign after the Oval Test (although it would not be entirely a surprise if England were to win by an innings) and that he will go to the West Indies this winter merely as the senior professional. As he always has been, once defeat in a series has become inevitable, he was properly appreciative of his opponents and generous to his own team.
``Australia were simply just too good for us,'' he said. ``In the last two games the gulf has been pretty big. When they get into a big lead and start bowling in the fourth innings they are are almost unstoppable. But it's not much consolation in defeat that they are such a good side.
``I hope there won't be a whole lot of changes at the end of the series. I think we've got some good cricketers in the players we've had this summer who can compete on even terms with most teams in the world. I will back us to win in the West Indies. But Australia are the best side in the world.''
From the first over of the second Test at Lord's the Australians have been unstoppable and the conclusion has to be that they would have won there too had the rain not given England considerable assistance. In the three matches which have followed they have swept irresistibly to victory, by 268 runs, an innings and 61 and now, to go 3-1 up, by 264 runs.
In the last over before tea, with 25 on the board, Atherton was caught behind off his glove from a ball which lifted so quickly that only a genius could have avoided it. He was thus out to Glenn McGrath for the sixth time in his nine dismissals in the series, a remarkable confirmation of the champion fast bowler's ability to get the wicket which matters most. He did the same to Brian Lara against the West Indies last winter.
Atherton's dismissal was followed in the first full over after tea by that of Alec Stewart, caught in the gully from a leading edge, and the skid had started. Stewart had earlier made some brilliant takes standing up but had also missed another tricky stumping off Robert Croft and a run-out as England's fielding, so good for most of the game, disintegrated in the latter stages of the Australian innings, Atherton himself making mistakes which betrayed his pre-occupation with all that was to come.
He alone could have provided the steel and unyielding concentration required to save the game when England finally bowled out Australia a second time shortly before 3pm and set out to bat for a minimum of 132 overs. They had taken a wicket with only the second ball of the morning, when Andrew Caddick prodded a McGrath-like lifter to take the gloves of Steve Waugh, but hopelessly inconsistent bowling in the hour that followed and the dashing style and unbreakable confidence of Ian Healy ended any possibility that England's steadier bowling performance on Saturday afternoon could be exploited to the point where they might have faced a more realistic victory target.
Healy, cutting with devastating elan, made fifty off only 49 balls and Ricky Ponting was compact and utterly secure in sensible support as Australia added an extraordinary 75 in 12 overs in the first hour of a hazy morning. Adam Hollioake and Robert Croft, flighting it well and at last getting just a little turn, proved the right combination to staunch the flow after Caddick and Dean Headley, who had bowled so well on Saturday, had retired to lick their wounds.
The 451 England needed to win, though victory alone would have kept the issue of the Ashes alive, was out of the serious question. A long rearguard on a pitch which was still so beautifully even in bounce that Atherton went out to bat without an arm-guard, should not have been impossible. England's spirit has been broken, however, whether they realise it or not, on the wheel of Australia's complete superiority in all departments.
The fight which was so evident in the earlier stages of the match was altogether absent in this display, except in Thorpe's severe dismissal of the short ball on his way to fifty out of 62 in the first 10 overs of his two-hour innings, a 68-minute innings by John Crawley which ended unluckily with another leg-side catch, and some stout defence by Headley in the extra half hour as England almost avoided the ignominy of being bowled out inside 50 overs.
A quite brilliant diving catch to the right of first slip by Healy, worthily the man of the match, ended that possibility and McGrath administered the coup de gr‰ce when Devon Malcolm edged his second ball to second slip where Mark Waugh, of course, caught it, though it reached him like a bullet from a high-velocity rifle. The Australians immediately embraced in a tight knot of triumph in the middle of the square. Their victory in the end has been an unalloyed triumph.