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Australia v England, 3rd Test at Adelaide

Reports from the Electronic Telegraph
11-15 December 1998

Day 1: Australia deflect the heat on to England's toiling bowlers

By Christopher Martin-Jenkins

THE WEATHER in Adelaide dominated everything on the opening day of the third Test. It was no more suitable for cricket yesterday than it might be on a freezing April day in Leeds.

It was like playing inside a huge oven or the middle of the Sahara, and no one could blame a large portion of a hardy crowd of 13,600 for going back to their air-conditioned homes as soon as the match began to be shown on television after tea.

The players swallowed an estimated six litres a man in energising drinks. Justin Langer suffered from cramp almost throughout his painstaking first Test hundred on home soil.

Dean Headley limped off for a while during England's long, slow baking, and Peter Such, a surprise selection and heroic throughout an 18-over afternoon spell in temperatures reaching 130F, was running in on aching feet long before the end.

Australia held the aces from the moment that Mark Taylor won the toss, but in conditions close to being inhumane England kept going with admirable stamina and discipline.

A wicket with the second new ball for Darren Gough just before the close was a bonus, but two missed catches in the morning made this a yet another imperfect performance. Between them Langer, Taylor and Steve Waugh made sure that the advantage gained by the fall of the coin was not wasted.

It was no perfect day for Australia either, however. The cloud over Mark Waugh's head followed him to the true and welcoming pitch and showed no sign of lifting during eight distinctly uncomfortable overs from Gough and Such, which ended in a caught and bowled, gleefully accepted by Such and richly deserved.

The story of the cricketers who had taken tainted money from a bookmaker, still rumbled on. Indeed it was somehow appropriate to the suddenly bruised ego of Australian cricket that the chairman of the governing board should have been doing his best to defend the honour of his administration during yet another press conference, even as Taylor and Langer were taking 33 off the first four overs after lunch, the only period when the batsmen really got on top.

The day's true pattern was rather one of slowly attained control by an Australian side who would be the first to acknowledge their good fortune in winning a potentially crucial toss, the third out of three in the series so far.

The pitch is slow, but it will undoubtedly turn and keep low as it wears. With two specialist spinners in his side, all Taylor had to do after the national anthems, it seemed, was to bat first and see Australia through the first two hours.

Langer worked his way assiduously to an admirably single-minded second Test hundred, his first against England. It was an important milestone to him, especially as a move to Somerset had fallen through due to his poor availability next summer.

He is a player very much in the idiom of Allan Border and David Boon: patient, painstaking and dogged. He plays the ball from under his nose and only when he occasionally chased and missed a ball wide of his off-stump did he look anything other than secure yesterday during an innings which began in the 12th over as the mercury was rising towards its peak.

By now Taylor, before he had scored, had escaped a half-chance, a thickish edge low in front of second slip where Graeme Hick and others were standing a yard too deep. It is a wonder Gough has any hair left after six weeks of beating edges or glancing them only for the close fielders to fail him. Slater was also dropped, cutting hard to Mark Ramprakash at cover in Dean Headley's first over.

Four balls later Slater was gone, playing forward to a good length ball, which left him, and apparently nicking it thinly to the wicket-keeper. But Taylor remained a tower of strength.

The two left-handers ran the short singles smartly, though John Crawley would have run Taylor out when he was 47 had his throw from midwicket hit the stumps. Taylor's fifty soon followed and he now has more runs for Australia than any man except Border.

If you want to know a Test batsman's true worth, look at his scores in the first innings. Taylor's in this series have been 46, 61 and, yesterday, 59 before Such, now very much in the groove from the River Torrens end, had him caught neatly by Nasser Hussain from a cut low at slip.

Such offered Mark Waugh nothing, while Gough, quickly recalled by Stewart, responded with a hostile spell which gave him no chance to settle. Very nearly caught and bowled once, Waugh drove a second time at a ball which hung invitingly and dragged it back to his former Essex team-mate.

Steve Waugh restored his family's name with another formidably good piece of batting. He made his mark against Such by getting down on one knee to mow him towards the botanical gardens for the day's only six.

Stewart drove Such on until he dropped and kept the three fast bowlers going in relays from the Cathedral End. It would be an insult to Zephyrus to call the assistance they got a breeze.

It was more like the hot breath of Zeus, but Gough had the spirit to produce another quick and well directed spell with the second new ball. When Waugh edged this time, Hick's large hands gobbled a low catch to his left.

Day 2: England stand up and fight

By Scyld Berry

IN ACCORDANCE with the Biblical injunction, England's cricketers have lifted up their eyes to the hills to look for their salvation, but little sign has been forthcoming from the Adelaide hills as yet. Instead, for simply losing the toss, they have been condemned to unending torment on a pitch which has taken ever-increasing spin.

England, though, have struggled with admirable gameness to overcome that initial misfortune, not to mention the one suffered by Mike Atherton when he was given out caught at slip on all-too-flimsy evidence. To reduce Australia to 354 for nine when the pitch was at its most amiable was as fine as bowling them out for 240 in Perth, while some of the batting in England's reply has been exemplary against a ball which has turned ever more.

England's spirit therefore has been commendable, although again they may have nothing to show for it in the end, while Australia's has been less so.

The home side have not been at their most purposeful, disturbed by the mixed reactions to Mark Waugh - the cheers only just outnumbered the boos when he went on to bowl yesterday - and distracted by more rumours. Only Justin Langer, new to the side, cleared his head enough to take the runs which offered themselves in abundance to the side which won the toss, for the third time out of three.

So spirited were England that they took five wickets yesterday morning while the second ball was new. Their four bowlers here have been the right four, if five could not be chosen. Peter Such has acted as a fine example of the craftsmanship which can still exist in English cricket, his line much tighter than that of Robert Croft, never lapsing into offerings short and wide. Darren Gough has been impervious to the heat and misfortune, Dean Headley enthusiastic, Alan Mullally economical and under-used.

In his account of England's tour of Australia in 1920-21, Percy Fender, who played in the series, had two laments about England's cricket: that they missed their catches, especially in the slips, unlike the Australians, and that their tailenders could not make runs, unlike the Australians. On the second day, after being reduced to 354 for nine shortly before lunch, the two sides demonstrated that nothing has changed in more than 70 years.

In 47 minutes, Australia's last pair added 37 more runs, mocking England's fond belief that they are now good enough to finish what they have started. Langer has the same proclivity as Steve Waugh to make his hundreds huge ones, and the Adelaide Oval is his favourite ground. After making his highest Test score, Langer admitted that he had been offered the captaincy of Somerset but was more likely to return to Middlesex for next season.

Gough suffered his latest injustice when Langer pulled to square-leg where Mark Ramprakash could not hold the ball above his head. The consequences were as damaging as they usually are in Australia, for the next ball went for four, and the next over from Such saw not only Langer pull-driving another boundary but Glenn McGrath too. To end Australia's innings, it took a fine diving catch from a wicketkeeper who had been standing in the heat, and captaining, for more than nine hours.

As England realised that they must take some kind of lead on this disintegrating surface - all too reminiscent of Georgetown last winter where they lost the toss and match - they began batting with the utmost care. So constricting was McGrath that England had no momentum when spin was introduced for the 12th over, and fielders clustered round the bat.

In these circumstances, accidents happen, and Mark Butcher fell victim to one in Colin Miller's first over of off-spin. There could hardly be a better definition of the word ``waste'' than to be out twice shouldering arms in an Ashes series.

If this match had been staged in India, or if Shane Warne had been playing, Butcher's wicket could have opened the gates to the enemy. Warne, or Indian spinners, would have exerted ever more pressure, halting in mid-over to add another close fielder to the swarm, creating the impression that even a long-hop was part of the master-plan, and making the batsman doubt his capacity to survive in this enveloping quicksand.

Stuart MacGill and Miller, however, are novices in their craft and could not create the same web of intrigue as the Master-spinner. Atherton and Hussain batted brilliantly, too, as did Hussain and Ramprakash, so that 120 runs were hit in the final session of the second day in spite of two prime casualties.

Alec Stewart is not quite so proficient as Sachin Tendulkar in starting a Test innings against spin. Just as he had done in Brisbane, he thrust firmly forwards, edged an ordinary off-break into his pad and was gone for his fifth duck of the tour.

Against South Africa, Stewart's class in the face of fast bowling was not wasted down the order as they bowled little else. It is here, and it will continue to be so long as Taylor is captain and Sydney (where Western Australia were recently spun out for 58) is to come. England's planners have not been at their most astute here.

At 84 for three, England's ambitions had to be revised down, from a match-winning first innings lead to the more modest target of saving the follow-on.

Ramprakash set about that as soon as he entered, appreciating the chance to start against spinners as much as Stewart did not. Off-breaks were swept from outside offstump smack against the square-leg pickets, while Hussain favoured Miller with his hallmark lofted straight-drive.

On a cloudy yet still-stuffy evening, Ramprakash wore neither cap nor helmet, as if the real man was being laid bare at last. Having spent almost his entire England career in first and second gear, he seized on his promotion to number five to play his pent-up strokes, not least against McGrath, who reacted with a surly throw at the batsman's head.

Hussain batted like a man who has been given a late reprieve and brought back into England's one-day party to fill the place of Graham Thorpe, as is likely. He was in no mood to be charitable towards his old Essex colleague when Mark Waugh came on and his bowling was like his mental state, all over the place.

Together with Ramprakash, Hussain gave England some hope of security with his cover-driving. The pair even gave their team a glimpse of salvation, although at times they survived only because MacGill's leg-break bounced and turned too much.

Day 3: The bells toll for England in wake of pathetic display

By Christopher Martin-Jenkins in Adelaide

THE bells of St Peter's Cathedral rang out across the Adelaide Oval soon after the close of play on the third day, summoning the faithful to evensong but simultaneously tolling the knell of England's parting dreams.

Australia were 314 ahead with nine wickets in hand and two days left. They remain far superior but it is England's own incompetence which has surrendered the Ashes for a sixth successive series, barring a rearguard action every bit as remarkable as the one at Old Trafford against South Africa last summer.

Such recoveries seldom come more than once a year: would it were the same with England batting collapses. After an admirable partnership between Nasser Hussain and Mark Ramprakash, which had reached 103 when Glenn McGrath broke through, the last seven wickets went down for 40. This year alone England have collapsed disastrously in Antigua, at Lord's, at Old Trafford and now to a greater or lesser extent in successive matches at Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.

In each case the batting frailties have been compounded by disastrously fallible catching. Two more chances went down yesterday afternoon as Australia built on a first-innings lead of 164. That makes 15 chances spurned in three matches.

Justin Langer battled through a difficult time when England's off-spinners were turning the ball away from him out of the rough, with a well guarded off-side field making attacking shots risky. Before he had reached double figures, he was missed at mid-off by Mark Butcher as he juggled with a sliced drive off Peter Such and by Alec Stewart off the outside edge off Ramprakash.

When essentially good fielders make errors as often as England's have, good and bad luck is subsumed. England will deserve no better fortune until they learn the secret of holding their catches and holding fast when a wicket falls.

The soft underbelly of the batting was gobbled up in a hurry by Stuart MacGill yesterday after McGrath had made the first incisions. First he produced a ball of extra bounce and pace to have Ramprakash caught at second slip off the splice; then he hit John Crawley's off-stump. The ball cut back through a weak defensive stroke, played off the back foot to a good-length ball.

Hussain alone provided any style or substance after this as Damien Fleming belatedly got his chance of easy wickets. England not only lost their last seven wickets for 40 but their last five for 17 in only 21 balls. It was pathetic. Scant reward, too, for Hussain, who had cover driven superbly throughout an almost faultless innings of 4hrs 23mins.

To English eyes, the disappointment was all the greater for the good all-round performance on Saturday when the bowlers combined well until Langer was dropped by Ramprakash at square leg off the hapless Darren Gough. It helped Langer complete a triumphant innings by enjoying a last-wicket partnership of 37 with McGrath. It took a brilliant low catch by Stewart, diving right, to end England's day and a half in the field.

A total of 391 was a little better than par for Australia, given the huge advantage of winning the toss. Yet England seemed to have got over a sticky start when Mike Atherton was out in controversial circumstances. He had started to play somewhere near his best after Mark Butcher had been given out, padding up to an off-break from Colin Miller bowled from round the wicket. The same fate befell Mark Taylor against Such yesterday.

The decision against Butcher was debatable but Atherton should not have been given out. He had played unnecessarily at a leg-break from MacGill and stabbed it towards the feet of Taylor at slip. The Australian captain scooped the ball up with his fingertips and, whatever he said immediately afterwards, claimed the catch urgently as he took the rebound, with Ian Healy in voluble support.

The inexperienced third umpire, Paul Angley, gave himself far too little time to make a rational analysis of replays which, over the next half hour or so, suggested that the ball might have bounced a fraction before it reached Taylor.

Stewart has always been a very unconvincing starter when he has come in against decent spinners and he was caught at short leg off an inside edge much as he had been against Mark Waugh in the second innings at Brisbane.

Forty-nine runs from five innings is the sum of Stewart's batting in this series, 346 from 19 innings in Tests in Australia overall. It is truly a dismal record, unworthy of his talent and character. To give himself a better chance in the last two games of the series, whatever transpires in the second innings here, he should be batting at six.

Hussain and Ramprakash dispelled the developing crisis with some admirably positive batting against the spinners, Ramprakash batting bare-headed and taking the attack to Miller's unexceptional off-breaks with delightful freedom.

Twice yesterday morning he got down on one knee to swing Miller into the George Giffen Stand in front of square leg and, like Hussain, he played shrewdly against MacGill's fizzing leg-breaks. But instead of waiting for the new ball as expected, Taylor recalled McGrath with the old one, which had reverse swung for him the previous evening. Very soon the skid had started.

Michael Slater led the way in Australia's second innings in an innings marked by sparkling footwork. Once Gough's testing six-over new-ball spell had been negotiated by himself and Taylor, he scored his runs shrewdly, running every one of them like a startled rabbit except when, moving down the pitch to Ramprakash, he struck an immense six over long-on, a carry not far short of 100 yards.

The need for quick runs was not so great as it had been for Australia in the first Test at the Gabba and this time Slater was kept to heel by some disciplined bowling by Gough and Alan Mullally before the spinners took over. They were helped by a cracked pitch which has roughed up much more than the hard and perfectly even Brisbane surface. It took a storm to rescue England there; it will need a miracle this time.

Day 4: Miller finds his feet as Taylor turns the screw on England

By Christopher Martin-Jenkins

MARK TAYLOR set England the task of batting for a minimum of 140 overs and just over 4.5 sessions on a worn, turning pitch when he eventually declared Australia's second innings yesterday, 40 minutes after lunch.

The lead of 442 was more than sufficient but Taylor has always been a captain who likes his bodies comfortably placed in the coffin before he turns for the hammer and nails.

Damien Fleming and Colin Miller, the two less feared of his four specialist bowlers, obliged him by removing England's opening pair in successive overs inside the first hour and although Nasser Hussain and Mark Ramprakash then produced their second excellent partnership of the match, Miller gave a fair imitation of Jim Laker by splitting them inside the last 10 minutes of the day and adding the nightwatchman for good measure.

Had the third-wicket pair hung on until the final day they would have taken some England hopes with them. There have been some notable last-day rearguards at Adelaide, not least when Australia defied Abdul Qadir on a turning pitch in 1983-84 and when Lindsay Kline played his famous role as No 11 in defiance of Wes Hall in the Benaud versus Worrell series. But there was little realistic hope of escape for England on a cracked surface - Stuart MacGill's only problem was that he was spinning his leg-breaks too much - and it seemed only a matter of what time on the fifth day Australia would be celebrating the fifth successive defence of the Ashes they won in 1989.

Having promoted Ramprakash to four and held himself back, a sensible acknowledgment of a double truth which should have been faced much earlier, Alec Stewart delayed his entrance no further when Hussain was leg before to an off-break bowled from round the wicket and, four balls later, Headley was caught low off pad and bat at silly point. Ramprakash, increasingly self-assured, dealt with MacGill's final over himself, leaving the captain to do what he could about his own destiny and that of England's diligent but error-strewn Ashes campaign.

At least Stewart had given himself a reasonable chance to put his miserable batting record in Australia into better perspective. It was obvious to some, but not until yesterday himself, that he could not reasonably be expected to keep wicket and captain the side in hot weather and also to bat in the top four. It is a shame that he did not recognise as much at the start of the series rather than at a point when the Ashes have almost gone. The second truth, less evident six weeks ago, is that Ramprakash has the purest technique of any of the England batsmen and is now sufficiently sure of himself and his regular place in the team to be, certainly in Graham Thorpe's absence, the right man to go in at four.

Stewart's chipper approach to cricket is admired in Australia, for all his batting failures, but quite apart from winning a very important toss here, Taylor continues to lead his side with an imagination and a Napoleonic inspiration beyond his rival. He has only one great bowler in the side, but he uses the others so shrewdly. Most captains would have declared earlier but he wanted to allow Mark Waugh time to get a morale-boosting fifty. Most would also have had MacGill on before Miller yesterday but not Taylor, who demonstrated his confidence in a bowler written off by various English pundits as a poor man's Mike Watkinson.

Michael Slater had reached his second hundred of the series with a flurry of strokes and some more rapidly taken singles in the first half-hour of the day. Australia have a man for all circumstances it seems and Slater is certainly just the fellow when the need is for quick runs at the start of the second innings. He hit fours off Darren Gough's first two balls of the morning, a neat leg glance followed by a searing cover drive, and a mere 25 minutes later he was going through his familiar routine of bat-waving and helmet-kissing.

Of Slater's 10 hundreds for Australia, six have been against England and five have come in the last two home series against them. Remarkably, he never got near the Test side in the intervening series in England last year. His stroke of the morning was a cover drive off Gough played with a joyous panache and both knees on the ground; but Gough is a foe worthy of Slater's steel and his revenge came at last with an inswinging yorker.

Justin Langer followed nine overs later, well caught by Ben Hollioake at mid-on to give Peter Such his fifth wicket of the match. Another smart catch at square leg by Graeme Hick from a clip off Steve Waugh's legs and another wicket with the inswinger for the deserving Gough after lunch kept England's spirits up for the real battle which lay ahead. Mark Waugh, however, did his recently battered self-esteem some good with a fluent innings. He was tied down only by Alan Mullally, who had been kept out of the attack until after lunch, presumably to prevent his making the already substantial rough any worse.

Having being kept in the waiting room longer than expected, England were admitted to the dentist's chair 70 minutes before tea. Atherton and Butcher played staunchly but even before the spinners came on batting never looked easy. Glenn McGrath's extra height made his bowling all the more dangerous when the ball kept low, as it began to do as soon as the effect of the heavy roller wore off. Stewart had changed his mind here after requesting the light one for England's first innings.

McGrath's six overs were safely negotiated however, impressively so in Butcher's case. Taylor switched Fleming to the City End and within moments came a short ball outside the off stump, a loose cut and the first breach in the wall. An over later a ball from Miller popped, but did not turn and Atherton, shaping to leg in expectation of off-spin, instead got a leading edge to point.

The stand which followed was as heartening for England supporters as the alliance of Hussain and Ramprakash had been in the first innings. Both were positive again, sound in defence except when MacGill spun past the outside edge and quick to seize any scoring opportunity to prevent themselves from being hemmed in. Ramprakash has gone back to an absolutely square stance and everything about his batting is orthodox and exemplary at the moment: footwork decisive, head still, body sideways on to the line of the ball.

Hussain again had the courage to advance and hit Miller over the top a couple of times and when McGrath returned he drove him classically to the cover boundary, but with only a few minutes of a bright, fresh evening remaining he went back to Miller and missed. For England it was another case of almost but not quite; for Australia another example of someone responding when the need was pressing.

Day 5: Tale of two tails underlines the Australians' tougher approach

By Christopher Martin-Jenkins

AUSTRALIA'S retention of the Ashes reflects a disparity less of natural talent than of the way in which Australia make the most of their players while England continue to under-achieve.

Australia celebrate after Alan Mullally is caught by Ian Healy Incredibly, Glenn McGrath inflicted on Graeme Hick the 11th first-ball duck by an England batsman in 1998 as he seized four of the last five wickets with arrogant ease to guide Australia to victory just after lunch on the fifth day of the third Test.

It was Australia's fifth successful defence of the Ashes since they were regained under Allan Border in 1989 and it leaves England to play only for the lesser prize of a share of the rubber.

Mark Taylor admitted that winning the toss here had been significant. ``In 90 per cent of the Tests I've played, the toss has made no difference but this was a very important one to win. It gave us an advantage before the game even started.''

Teamwork, toughness and technique have been at the heart of Australia's triumph, one which was all the more satisfying for the embarrassing revelations about Mark Waugh and Shane Warne in the days before this match.

There is a continuing feeling that the admission of their dealings with an illegal bookmaker may be just the tip of an iceberg. Warne said last night that he would answer the summons to go to Lahore for further questioning on Saturday but Waugh, having testified once, is not certain to do so.

The International Cricket Council finally announced their own inquiry yesterday. Allegations of match-fixing will be discussed at their meeting in Christchurch on Jan 11 and 12 on what the president, Jagmohan Dalmiya, described as ``a special agenda''. He said that a high-powered commission would be set up to try to root out past miscreants and restore a ``clean and congenial'' atmosphere to the international game.

It is ironic that this same congenial atmosphere in both recreational and professional cricket in England is seen to be one of the reasons for the continuing failure of the national team. There were contrasting views about that from the two captains after Australia had further improved their record against England in the last six series to 31 matches played, eight drawn and four lost, three of them after the Ashes had been decided. No wonder Taylor said bluntly: ``I just don't think they're as good as we are at the moment.''

Stewart, deliberately wearing his England cap at a post-match press conference, subtly disagreed: ``What has disappointed me is that we haven't played as well as we're capable of playing. To compete against Australia we had to play to our full potential. We've failed to do that and because of that, we're 2-0 down.''

England have failed also in another, unseen, ingredient of consistent success in cricket: moral fibre. Individually, that may not be so in the case of most of the players, but the signs during the second half of the South Africa series that a stronger team ethic was developing have not been evident here. England still wilt under fire whereas Australia, as Taylor said yesterday, know how to maintain pressure in the field for long periods, or hang on in tight situations when they are batting.

Taylor has captained Australia in more matches than anyone other than his predecessor, Border, and his record is extraordinary. Twenty-five of his Tests as leader have been won, 12 lost and only 11 have ended in the result he hates, a draw. He has achieved, he says, everything that he wanted to as Australian captain and he added: ``I'm only playing now because I really enjoy it.''

Stewart, a year older, is not so happy. A determined 63 not out, only his third Test fifty in Australia, sweetened a bitter pill, but only marginally. ``We came here with the intention of trying to regain the Ashes,'' he said. ``We didn't play well enough against the best side in the world and really we've been beaten pretty convincingly in the two games that we've lost.''

Australia, as Taylor remarked, have not been that much more effective in the first part of their innings but he added significantly: ``We've got a mental edge and it shows in the two different tails. We can go from five for 250 to 400; they go from five for 250 to 270. And we expect them to.''

Yesterday, in yet another example of the sudden cave-in, England actually subsided from 221 for five to 237 all out, losing their last five wickets for 16 runs and the match by 205.

As on Sunday, getting Ramprakash out was the key. Damien Fleming produced the necessary ball after 50 minutes' play, a lethal inswinging yorker which knocked back Ramprakash's leg stump. For a time Stewart kept the battle going with John Crawley, who survived the first short burst to which McGrath subjected him, only to succumb when Taylor called for the second new ball, six overs before lunch.

With only three balls of the morning session left, McGrath once again drew Crawley into a shot he did not need to play and the edge flew to second slip where Mark Waugh made a low catch look simple.

Hick was fatally late in playing the first ball of the afternoon, bowled by McGrath on a full length just outside the off stump. His bat still crooked, Hick edged it to third slip.

England had lasted six overs and one ball longer than they had in the first innings, which shows where the match was really lost: on the third morning when they threw away their position of equality at 183 for three.

Shane Warne said yesterday that he was unlikely to play in the fourth Test, starting on Dec 26 in Melbourne. ``The Boxing Day aim might have been unrealistic,'' the leg spinner said.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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