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The Electronic Telegraph England v Australia
The Electronic Telegraph - 24-28 July 1997

Day 1

Australians hate taste of their own medicine

By Martin Johnson

THERE is a strange country, about half-a-million miles from nowhere, and where all the adult males wear corked hats and pour icy froth into enormous bellies, called Australia. And, unlike ourselves of course, they have a highly blink- ered and stereotypical view of what constitutes your average Pom.

Firstly, any of these Poms inadvertently straying with- in 10 yards of a bar of soap is liable to break out in a ner- vous rash, and secondly, introduce any subject at all into casual conversation - whether it be the weather or the price of fish and you are likely to be on the receiving end of a mon- umental whinge.

Furthermore, the Pommy whinge is thought to have par- ticularly virulent properties when applied to cricket, although it is conveniently forgotten that the biggest whinge recorded in Test cricket history emanated from Australia, when a slight- ly built miner from Nottingham was accused of bowling (albeit entirely within the laws) the occasional delivery that their master batsman was unable to hit for four.

On that occasion, the Australians felt strongly enough to write a letter of complaint to Lord's, which the MCC, a body who for some curious reason were always regarded by them as ar- rogant, gave long and considered thought (i.e. about 10 min- utes) and then binned it.

And now we learn that they're at it again. A whingeing letter of complaint about sharp Pommy practice will today drop through the letterbox of the chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, and although Tim Lamb is far too polite to bin it, the Australian Cricket Board will get no more of an apology than they got from the MCC in 1933.

When England last discovered that they had prepared a pitch for Australia that suited the opposition rather better, at Edgbaston in 1993, they changed the team. This time, having learnt then that calling in John Emburey scarcely con- stituted a counterpunch to Shane Warne on a dustbowl, they changed the pitch.

Alan Crompton, the Australian manager, is apparently unhappy at the inference that the original, Warne-friendly surface was vetoed by the England chairman of selectors, David Graveney. But even if Graveney, as Lamb claims, did not have his fingerprints on the decision, why should it matter if he had done?

The pitch, as it happens, was prepared by the Yorkshire groundsman under the supervision of the ECB's official inspector, Harry Brind. But what does it really matter, as long as it is a good one?

After Edgbaston in 1993, and now Headingley in 1997, all we know for sure is that Australia are rather more adept than England in preparing the sort of pitch that suits them. David Lloyd, the coach, must have had a wry smile yesterday, as he recalled walking/quaking out to bat in the 1974-75 series against Lillee and Thomson on a succession of bone hard trampolines. In fact, one of the few balls from Tommo that threatened anything lower than his cranium, doubled him up in the crease and temporarily turned him into a soprano.

There is usually a pitch story at Headingley, where the previous groundsman, Keith Boyce, spent so much time attempting to perfect his surface that Mrs Boyce's gooseberry crumbles had to come out of the oven to accommodate Mr Boyce's baked soil samples. For all the good it did, Boyce might just as well have eaten the soil and prepared 22 yards of gooseberry.

Cricket has a rare gift for creating dramas out of incidents that the former Pakistani manager Hasib Ashan described as ``storms in a cup of tea''. Ball-tampering became a cause clbre, a bit of dirt in Atherton's pocket divided a nation, and now we have letters being exchanged over who might have vetoed a pitch. What a waste of stamps.

Pitch storm darkens

By Greg Baum

Leeds: Australia made two attacking gestures when the moment of truth - delayed by rain - finally arrived on the controversial pitch for the crucial fourth Test at Headingley.

The first was for Mark Taylor, having won the toss for the fourth time in the series, to swallow hard and send England in for the second time in this series and third time in his reign.

When play did start 70 minutes late, England negotiated the early overs before more rain brought an early lunch, with the home side at 0-9, Mark Butcher on eight and Mike Ather- ton yet to score.

Earlier, Australian manager Alan Crompton released a statement objecting to the part played by England chairman of se- lectors David Graveney in the controversial pitch switch.

``We have no problem with the decision to change pitches,'' he said. ``There is no evidence the reason to change ... was anything other than to produce a better wicket and match. But we think it's totally inappropriate that the decision to change pitches should be made by the chairman of the England selection committee.''

Crompton said he had protested in strong terms to En- glish Cricket Board chief Tim Lamb and match referee Cammie Smith.

He said Australia wanted to make the point before the match so that if they went badly, they would not be making excuses.

Fourth Test: Late Hussain wicket gives Australia an even chance

AFTER all the hullabaloo about the pitch there was a double irony when play finally started in the fourth Test yesterday. First, the Australian captain, Mark Taylor, implicity anxious that his side might be put in to bat on an unplayable surface, won the toss. Then Mike Atherton, the England captain, said that he would have cho- sen to go in first anyway, writes Christopher Martin-Jenk- ins.

In the event, batting on a day shortened by rain to a mere 36 overs was distinctly awkward but not impossi- ble. Atherton, playing the ball late, when he had to, from a classically sideways-on position, survived three ses- sions of play - respectively of four overs, five balls and 31.1 overs - and played some good shots square of the wicket on both sides to guide his side to 106 for three.

Had Nasser Hussain not succumbed to Glenn McGrath with only two full overs of the evening session left, England might have congratulated themselves on getting over the worst, es- pecially if the sun should shine (contrary to the forecast) to- day and the movement of the ball off a green, easy-paced sur- face, should become less extravagant. As it is, both sides will feel they are in with an even chance in a game which has barely started.

McGrath, the leader of the Australian pack, did not bowl as well as he can - it often happens when fast bowlers are presented with a green pitch and strain a little too hard for their success - and the third-wicket partnership be- tween Atherton and Hussain was developing along positive lines against some mixed fare when Hussain was squared up on the back foot and deftly taken at first slip off a fast-travel- ling outside edge.

In a way it was the only authentic wicket which Aus- tralia took. Despite some corking balls from an unlucky Paul Reiffel when he switched to the Pavilion End and a good, quick, straight spell from Jason Gillespie down the Kirkstall Lane slope, their dismissals of Mark Butcher and Alec Stewart were both odd.

Butcher again played with a mixture of judgment and assertiveness which suggests that his is going to be a long and productive Test career but in the 15th over he clipped a leg-stump half-volley off the full face of the bat only for the ball to lodge between Greg Blewett's left arm and his ribs.

Stewart had not settled when, five overs later, he played too early as he shaped to turn a shortish ball off his leg stump and spooned a simple catch to Blewett. Stewart is a batsman of high class as a Test average of 41 attests; but against Australia he averages only 25 and this latest failure merely confirmed that, for this series at least, he should swap places with John Crawley.

Shortly before play was due to start the Australians made a formal protest, through their manager Alan Crompton, about the influence of England's chairman of selectors, David Graveney, in changing the Test pitch. Crompton has written to Tim Lamb, chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, confirming a statement he made yesterday in advance of the game ``so that there is no suggestion of sour grapes''.

He said that the Australians had ``no problem'' with the decision to change to a better pitch, but that it was ``totally inappropriate for the chairman of England's selection committee to have anything to do with the decision''.

Officially, Graveney merely ratified the decision taken by Yorkshire's chief executive, Chris Hassell, after Harry Brind, the ECB's inspector of pitches, had looked at the orig- inal pitch last Wednesday. Part of Brind's role is to keep in touch with the groundsmen preparing Test pitches and he was alarmed when Andy Fogarty, the head man at Headingley, rang him after the Old Trafford Test to say that the grass had not grown on the strip originally being prepared for the Test. It was the one used for the first one-day international in June.

Anyone comparing the two pitches at close hand now can have no doubt that the correct decision was taken, but neither Graveney, nor anyone close to the England team, would be believed if they were to deny that the last thing they wanted was a bare pitch suitable for Shane Warne.

Graveney came back earlier than planned from a short break in Spain to inspect the two pitches last Saturday. He had every right to do so, of course, since he was responsible for picking the right team for the conditions, but the ultimate de- cision should, by cricket law, rest with the ground executive.

The realities of modern Test cricket are that on many grounds and in some countries the groundsmen are happy to try to give the home team a strip which will suit them. Lamb recog- nised as much when he said yesterday evening: ``There is nothing wrong with making limited, sensible use of home advantage. We'd be criticised if pitches were produced which suit the op- position. It's a question of balance.''

Lamb said that the Australian manager had accepted his assurance that the ground authority took the decision, not Graveney.

Blewett holds on for lucky break

Australian View by Ian Chappell

THE good thing about coming to Leeds for a Test is you know you haven't gone to the wrong venue. If there isn't a pitch controversy it isn't a Test at Headingley.

Because of the rain there wasn't so much a pitched battle at Headingley, more like a war of words. First it was the Australian camp making their feelings known on the pitch wrangle and shortly afterwards we heard the English version.

However, the pitch wasn't Australia's only worry with England sailing along at 43. England had produced their best first innings opening partnership and the boundaries were flowing in a similar man- ner to the tiny streams that had built up around the outfield.

The new ball had been mostly wasted and Mark Taylor had switched Paul Reiffel to the Football Stand End, when the lucky break came. A full-blooded shot from an assured Mark Butcher finished up wedged in between Greg Blewett's arm and body.

A team who have inserted the opposition, then lost most of the day to rain, needs a lucky break. From there the bowling lifted and Jason Gillespie hassled Alec Stewart until he popped a much simpler offering to Blewett. It is those sort of soft catches that make the suicide position palatable.

But Nasser Hussain was quick to remind Blewett of the dangers of his position when he cracked a firm on-drive into the visor and this was the precursor to a series of confident shots.

On a day of continuing controversy over the pitch preparation it was a pity nobody objected to the greatest eyesore and insult to the players at Headingley. Never mind the pitch, that hotchpotch that poses as a sightscreen at the Football Stand End should be destroyed im- mediately the game is over.

Day 2

Fourth Test: Shaky England allow Elliott to lay match- winning foundation

THE gap in class and character between Australia and England may have narrowed but it has not closed. The real reasons for Australia's first-innings lead of 86 with six wickets in hand after two days at Headingley are Jason Gillespie's furious fast bowling, the skilled and aggressive batsmanship of Matthew Elliott and Ricky Ponting during a fifth-wicket partnership of 208, and a pitch which gradually lost its greenness on a day of blissful breezes and warm sunshine, writes Christopher MartinJenkins.

It can only add to Australia's elation, and the feeling of complete confidence in their future, that the three heroes of the day are aged 22, 22 and 25 (Elliott). Equally, it can only increase England's depression as Australia finally took undisputed control of the series, that their parlous position was due in no small measure to all too familiar fail- ings of their own.

First there was a rapid and abject collapse as soon as Mike Atherton had been dismissed, allowing Gillespie to re- turn sensational figures of seven for 37 despite, in his own estimation, ``not bowling all that well''; then a crucial dropped catch; and, not least, evidence of the unpalatable truth that the bowling lacked sufficient penetration despite ample movement off the seam when the ball was new.

The persistent rain forecast for today may yet offer England a lifeline to a draw, but if ever a day or a series turned on a moment it was the one yesterday when Elliott was dropped at first slip by Graham Thorpe in Mike Smith's third over as a Test cricketer. The edge flew at no unusual pace off the splice towards Thorpe's face but instead of catching the ball, as he would have done 19 times out of 20, he could only parry it, before making, in vain, a desperate dive to catch the rebound.

Steve Waugh was out at the other end to the next ball and had the first catch stuck Australia would have been 50 for five in reply to England's 172. Elliott was 63 when he cut Eal- ham hard and low to Atherton at gully but when he offered his next unaccepted chance, a top-edged hook off Darren Gough to deep fine-leg in the penultimate over of the day, they had reached 256 for four and Elliott had made a handsome 132.

Brilliantly as Ponting batted, therefore, the course of the day might have been radically different - just as it might have been at Lord's had Elliott not been dropped three times on the way to his maiden Test hundred. Ponting will probably make his today: he certainly deserves to do so.

Two of Elliott's three sixes were hooked and Ponting pulled another, a clear indication of the fact that England generally bowled too short. The partnership developed inexorably through the afternoon against an assortment both of bowling and of bowlers. Mark Ealham, the steadiest of them, was badly underused.

Gough could not produce anything like the same venom of his opening spell: fit though he looks, he lacks stamina. Dean Headley performed nobly to get the Waugh twins but as the bounce became more even his menace became less. Robert Croft used the breeze skilfully but got no turn and the quick-footed Ponting played him especially well. Smith, after his moment of cruel ill-fortune, looked increasingly innocuous. If he is a cricket historian, his mind might have turned to the moment in 1936-37 when R W V Robins apologised to Gubby Allen for dropping Don Bradman. ``Don't worry, Walter,'' his cap- tain is reputed to have replied, ``it's only cost us the Ashes.''

Thorpe had an unhappy day, though he was not alone in that. His rather frenetic approach - virtuous pugnacity overdone to the point were it became counter-productive - led to his quick departure and opened the gates for Gillespie. Bowling at full pelt down the hill from the Kirkstall Lane end, the young South Australian surged through them as England's last six wickets fell for 18 runs in 54 balls.

Australia got the wicket they most wanted an over be- fore Thorpe was out when Atherton hooked Glenn McGrath in the air to long-leg. The captain had watched with approval in the early overs of the day while the night-watchman, Headley, made his first 22 runs in Test cricket with an entertaining mix- ture of drives, steers, chips and squirts. He drove firm-footed at Gillespie's first ball and was caught in the gully, but this was not the signal for Atherton to take command. On the contrary, Gillespie had already beaten him twice in an over with late outswingers of full length before he left with only seven added to his overnight score in 16 overs.

Perhaps it was Atherton's uncertainty which persuaded Thorpe to come out with guns blazing. He twice hooked short, quick balls from Gillespie thrillingly for four but an attempt to repeat the shot to a less short ball pitched outside his offstump resulted in a bottom edge on to his stumps.

John Crawley, having escaped what looked suspiciously like a thinly gloved catch down the leg-side off McGrath, was caught from a rebund off the boot of the fearless Greg Blewett at shortleg. Only Ealham clung on with any conviction af- ter that and even he got a cut eye as he tried to heave McGrath over midwicket.

For a time the Australian innings was a mirror image of England's. Mark Taylor, ducking, was given out caught off a glove; Blewett got an outside edge, driving at an out- swinger; Mark Waugh, driving across the line, got a leading edge, and Steve Waugh was caught at short-leg off a firm push off his legs. What followed only proved the truest of cricket- ing adages, that catches win matches and dropped ones can lose them.

Gillespie stands for the youth movement

By Ian Chappell

IT was a great day for Australian youth at Headingley as they took control of the fourth Test. First it was Jason Gillespie who demolished the English batting line-up to restrict the target and then Matthew Elliott and Ricky Ponting com- bined to resurrect an innings in tatters.

Gillespie is not only a fast bowler, he is also a quick learner. He graduated from the Academy in Adelaide as a lively medium-fast bowler with some potential, but after only a handful of firstclass games he was a bowler of genuine pace, with the ability to blast through a batting line-up.

In only his eighth Text he did exactly that to grab seven for 37 in a very mature exhibition of pace bowling.

Gillespie's success has been built around an increase in pace, but he complements it with some sharp movement. His ability to swing away from the right-handers makes him especially dangerous. After Gillespie had finished a good morn- ing's work, two of Australia's best young strokemakers took over in the afternoon.

Australia's carefree attitude towards losing an early wicket has got them into trouble and it did so again after lunch. Mark Taylor was soon gone - this time a trifle unluckily - and soon Steve Waugh was again thrust into the lifesaver role.

The idea of having six batsman is to share the load of scoring runs, but this often hasn't been the case in the Aus- tralian team lately.

However, Elliott again put his hand up in a spectacular way. He has a wide range of shots and he doesn't waste any of them, almost geometrically finding the gaps.

He found a willing helper in Ponting, whose stroke-mak- ing display must have had English fans as confused as the Australians who still wonder why he was ever dropped.

The exhibition of driving and horizontal bat play took Elliott to his second and Ponting to within reach of his maiden ton. Where the senior brigade won the Test at Old Trafford for Australia, the 'juniors' had their day in the sun at Headingley.

Thorpe embarrassed by his lack of needlework

By Martin Johnson

AMONG the many delights of being an English Test crick- eter nowadays is that you get to do so many excit- ing things. Since Old Trafford, for instance, the lads' male-bonding routine has included such diverse activities as clay pigeon shooting, archery, and, believe it or not, driving Jeeps through forests while wearing blindfolds. Fred Trueman has yet to be asked how many more Test wickets he would have collected had he gone in for blindfolded Jeep driving, but it is probably a question best avoided on live radio.

It's all very well having a non-blindfolded co-pilot, but just imagine the terror involved in getting Devon Malcolm on the morning he'd forgotten to put in his contact lenses. ``Left hand down a bit'' . . . splat! Nor is it immediately apparent how a proficiency certificate in blindfolded Jeep driving contributes towards winning Test matches.

Maybe it's a routine geared towards sharpening the re- flexes, in which case it hasn't worked very well for Graham Thor- pe, judging by the mess he made of a simple slip catch yes- terday. If England lose this match, there will many other con- tributory factors, but none quite as pivotal as Thorpe dropping Matthew Elliott.

The problem with the catch was that it was such a slow looper, floating gently towards him off the shoulder of the bat, that Thorpe's reflexes may have been too sharp for his own good. Had England spent less time on the Jeep driving, and a bit more on needlework or croquet, Thorpe would probably have swal- lowed it.

Thorpe did something very similar in the Perth Test a couple of winters ago, when England dropped 11 catches in one match. Thorpe's contribution involved a miss of such horrible proportions that (with the kind of skill you'd expect from a former England amateur footballer) he booted it through extra cover and the batsmen ran two.

What total Australia might have mustered had Elliott, a cultured left-hander who deals mostly in dot balls and boundaries, not survived is a moot point. However, El- liott was in no mood not to take advantage of his good luck, and certainly gave England's batsmen a lesson in how to place a high price-tag on your wicket.

Yesterday's events certainly made Australia's self- righteous posturing over the pitch look even whackier than it did 48 hours earlier. Shane Warne is a long way from being their only bowler, and while Alan Crompton, their manager, saw fit to post a letter of protest to the England and Wales Cricket Board over what he perceived to be David Graveney hand-picking the pitch, Graveney can presumably expect a letter of congratula- tion from Jason Gillespie to plop through his letterbox this morning.

Well though Gillespie bowled, however, England's bat- ting yesterday was so slapdash that it would have been eyebrow-raising on a Trent Bridge shirtfront, never mind one of Headingley's chiselling strips. You could not even feel much sympathy for Mark Ealham's split eyebrow, the product of a horrible, crossbatted mow. If it makes him think twice before attempting something similar again, the blood will not have been spilt in vain.

The innings of the day, however, was played by Mike Smith, who lasted two balls, both of which involved footwork designed to offer Gillespie the clearest possible view of all three stumps.

Smith has the potential to take his place in any all- time Timid Tailenders XI, alongside such legends as Les Taylor, who once walked out to bat for Leicestershire with 20-odd runs needed to avoid the follow on. ``I can't do it,'' said his captain, David Gower, watching Sylvester Clarke scowling at the end of his run-up. And just as Taylor raised two trembling fingers to the umpire - ``two short legs, please'' - Gower declared. In those days, blindfolded Jeep driving was infinitely less dan- gerous than facing Clarke.

England starting to crack

By Scyld Berry

AGAIN the pitiful pattern is being repeated. Today and tomorrow, as so often before, England's chance lies in Mike Atherton leading a rearguard action out of trouble that has been partly selfinflicted. England's captain must feel like a man subjected to mock executions, so frequently does he find his back against the wall.

The forecast for today is for one or two showers, dying away in the afternoon. It must be hoped that England do not do the same. At Old Trafford they died away on Sunday after- noon and were all rounded up by Monday lunchtime, overwhelmed by the Australian seniors, as they have been here by their ju- nior players.

We know now that Edgbaston was the exception, not the norm. Starting at Lord's the Australians have gone from strength to strength, until their only remaining weakness is the batting of Mark Taylor, not his captaincy nor his slip-catching. England somehow stayed in this game until Matthew Elliott and Ricky Ponting began their partnership, but from that moment they have not so much subsided as imploded.

Graham Thorpe's drop when Elliott had made 29 was obvi- ously crucial, and his position at first slip will have to be reviewed as he is becoming fallible, as well as a lit- tle too fine and deep. But we cannot say that if he had caught that catch, England would be still be on a par with Aus- tralia, for subsequent events have shown up far too many deficien- cies in this England team - cracks which one catch could not paper over.

At the least, even if England had not been able to part Elliott and Ponting on Friday, they could have kept a tighter rein on them. A rate of three runs an over would have seen Aus- tralia no more than level by the start yesterday, and given Eng- land a second chance if their bowlers had regrouped and bounced back with the second new ball. Having leaked runs at four an over on Friday, England were 86 runs behind from the resumption and virtually out of the picture.

In March, at a dinner in Melbourne, Shane Warne ven- tured the prophecy that Elliott would be the leading run-scorer in this series, from batsmen of either side, and he is not wrong so far. Nine more runs from Elliott today - not quite guaranteed as the pitch will still be damp after the rain which washed out the last two sessions yesterday - and he will have scored more runs off his own bat than England did in their first innings, just as he did at Lord's.

Exceptionally among left-handed batsmen Elliott has not shown a preference for the leg side or the off side, but for both when England have been bowling. It was not always thus, even in Elliott's case. When he toured England with the Young Australians of 1995 he did not score a century and mod- estly averaged 39.

Yesterday Elliott was quieter than he had been on Fri- day when he had hooked and off-driven and clipped his team out of trouble, adding 30 runs in the session which ended five minutes before lunch. Unselfishly Elliott throttled back until Ponting had reached his hundred, his first in Tests, and proba- bly some 15 or 20 away from being his last.

Ponting scored 40 runs in the hour before he was out, skying a pull, after which Ian Healy scored as freely as Eng- land's wicketkeeper used to do. The Australians cashed in be- fore the second ball was taken after 81 overs, and they cashed in afterwards too.

England have fielded their shortest team for a long while, and it has not been an appropriate moment, when the pitch has demanded tall fast bowlers who can exploit the occa- sional lift. The ball has not swung for Mike Smith, who in retrospect was the wrong selection. It is not the least perversity in Andy Caddick's career that he should have played here instead.

For Ponting the new ball was something that sped faster off his bat. Given the confidence of Friday, when he re-estab- lished himself in the team, he off-drove at every chance and he continued to pull with no less power. England have been poorly briefed about Ponting and the short-pitched ball. At the Academy in Adelaide it was his delight to have his col- leagues throw tennis balls at him from half the normal distance for him to hook and pull.

Ponting took one accidental and two intended fours off Headley, who added three no-balls to his eight of Friday. Gille- spie at first had the same trouble with his run-up from the Kirkstall Lane end, but Gillespie's cleared up.

Stewart missed a stumping when Ponting had made 109 and Robert Croft's loop lured him towards Kirkstall. England's top six batsmen have played some fine cricket this summer, but since Edgbaston it has largely been in between Test matches.

Play-threatening cloud was gathering when England took the second ball and Darren Gough produced a lifter to Healy that showed the devil that remains in this pitch, especially for a tall bowler with a new ball. England's plan to negate Shane Warne has been a cunning one, in collapsing to the Aus- tralian seamers instead.

Towards lunchtime a bowler called Mark Ealham was given the ball. He has become like Sir John Gielgud, making fre- quent appearances but only in walk-on parts. Three balls from him showed what he could do by landing the ball in the right place for all his lack of height. The first brought a highly justifiable shout for leg-before against Healy, the second was edged towards the slips, and the third took his inside edge. It was his 10th over of the game.

Elliott said afterwards that his aim had been to see through the second ball to spare his tailenders. He generously added that it was a pleasure to see Ponting reach his hun- dred.

``Since the Glamorgan match I think he has been ready to make the most of his opportunity. The thing on tour is to keep on top of your frustration when you're out of the side. When you get the chance it is easy to stuff up through trying to make the most of it.''

Ponting admitted: ``It's been very frustrating. It seemed like every game we got picked for it rained. The last couple of weeks it's turned round a bit for me. I was pretty hun- gry after being out of the side for eight Test matches.''

Australians' new generation are learning fast

By Ian Chappell

HEADINGLEY has seen the future and it may not like the vision. No, I am not talking about Mr Caddick's grand - 20 million plan to upgrade the ground and halt Yorkshire's proposed move to greener pastures, but Australia's next generation of match winners.

At Headingley, Jason Gillespie, Matthew Elliott and Ricky Ponting did to England what Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Steve Waugh and Ian Healy had perpetrated at Old Trafford. They set up a match-winning opportunity.

It was no surprise that the senior players and hard men came through in Australia's hour of need at Manchester. They must have sat back with a smile of satisfaction at Heading- ley as they watched the junior set emulate their feats in a manner which suggests that the teaching job was first-class and that Australia's future is assured.

Elliott, the exciting left-hand opener, is the senior member of the trio and the one who has climbed to the top without an Academy education. He has been piling up runs for Vic- toria in the last few years and must have reached the point where he wondered if his efforts were going to be wasted on a few hundred MCG members, a similar number of dole bludgers in the outer and a couple of hundred pigeons who were only in attendance because that nice Mr Lawry fed them regular- ly.

Elliott has often been likened to the pigeon-fancying former Australian opener who now works at the Victorian Crick- et Association and the similarities are mounting. Bill made his maiden Test hundred at Lord's on his first tour of Eng- land in 1961 and went on to complete a second three-figure score in the series. Matthew is right on target.

So is his batting. He drives handsomely through the off and pulls and hooks powerfully through the on side. His placement suggests that even though he missed the Academy he had more than a passing interest in geometry at school. He hits the gaps precisely, ensuring that none of his good work is wast- ed, and this is why he produces big scores and also avoids the frustration that builds up inside a batsman during pe- riods of scoring inactivity. Former Australian fast bowler Carl Rackemann made a good point when he said: ``I love my batsman to not get bored with batting.'' He must adore Elliott.

He would also have more than a passing interest in Ponting, who complemented Elliott perfectly. The features of Ponting's play were similar to Elliott, except that the righthander is a better driver through the on side. Ponting couldn't have had much time for geometry at school as he is a low handi- cap golfer, a good Australian rules footballer and if some- one explained the rules he would excel at crown green bowls. Ponting didn't learn placement, he was born with the talent.

When the team was being picked for England in 1993 Academy chief Rodney Marsh said: ``Ponting should go.'' He was only 18 at the time, but the former wicketkeeper insists: ``You pick a player on ability not age.''

I couldn't print what Rodney and thousands of other Australians said when Ponting was dropped shortly after playing a pivotal innings in the recent series against the West Indies. Presumably there are now plenty of Englishmen who are similarly puzzled as last night Simon Hughes walked through a crowded bar and said to me: ``How could you drop Ponting?''

I ignored the personal implication and shrugged my shoulders. There is no answer to that question.

If Ponting hadn't been harshly and ridiculously dealt with by the selectors, Australia would now have Elliott open- ing, with Ponting at No 3. The ideal set-up, the two best players of pace bowling leading the defence. Still, lovers of the art of counter-attacking batting can be thankful that Ponting is now reestablished and no damage has been done - he is still playing his natural game.

The third member of Australia's youth movement is very much a natural. Gillespie enjoys playing cricket, but he doesn't add to the enjoyment of some others. He is quick and makes the ball move away from right-handers, a nasty combination for batsmen. With his hair in a pony tail, Gillespie showed promise at the Academy, but because of his ability to learn fast he has quickly turned potential into wickets.

Jason is a free spirit, a little shy at times, but also with a love for the game and its traditions. Immediately he was drafted into the Australian side at the 1996 World Cup he had a hair cut and the pony tail has not reappeared, but he is still his own man with a pair of golden pirate earrings bouncing up and down as he bounds along on his rhythmical run. At a time when the extremely quick Victorian Brad Williams was struggling with back problems and Australia's support pace bowling was looking distinctly thin, Gillespie has grabbed the op- portunity.

Thanks to the initiative and skill of these three, Aus- tralia are in a dominant position at Headingley. I also sense that their influence might last a lot longer than the dura- tion of this Test.

Clouds gathering over Lloyd's faithful band

By David Gower

WHITHER England now? I tried this question yesterday afternoon to the commentary box at large and got the first re- sponse within a couple of nanoseconds from Ian Chappell, which translated pretty much as ``to the dogs''. As an impar- tial commentator he was, of course, very much tongue in cheek at the time and in particularly jocular mood despite the rains apparently delaying an inevitable Australian victory in this fourth Test.

Barring rare heroics, the result of this match is be- yond doubt and one might as well ponder on what England must do now. Over the last couple of Tests, even before this one, the signs have been ominous, as the Australians have rediscovered the form that gives them the right to the unofficial title of world Test champions. Even so, I have found it increasingly galling to be trying to mollify irate punters whose heartfelt opin- ions would echo Mr Chappell's pithy jest.

It has always been our traditional response to this sort of adversity to whet the executioner's axe and chop away merrily hoping to stumble upon an improved combination.

I was as guilty as any in 1989 as a party to the selec- tion theories of that annus horribilis when 30, give or take, of England's finest whirled in and out of the revolving dressing room doors over the six matches.

We did, admittedly, have more than the normal quota of injuries and then the announcement of the defecting rebel tour party which Mike Gatting agreed to lead to South Africa that winter, which immediately precluded from selection about half the potential team for the fifth Test, but policy that year was marked by a reluctance to stick long with anyone who did not immediately score a hundred or take five in an innings.

Things have been very different this year, as was evi- dent by the selectors' reaction at the end of the Old Trafford Test, at which stage they re-elected their vanquished squad en masse, and I have a great amount of sympathy firstly for David Graveney and his cohorts and especially for David Lloyd. Between them they have shown great faith.

Unfortunately, for Lloyd especially, the team's latest motivational get-together has been followed by a se- quence of technical errors which have undone any of the benefits from the reaffirmation of whatever it was that got them going so positively at the start of the international season.

I am a keen supporter of the England coach's attempts to do anything possible to assist his charges in their ef- forts at self-improvement and sense that he is not happy that such ``new fangled'' schemes have met with much derision in quar- ters from which he might have hoped for more support.

He was, after all, brought up himself at the school of hard knocks, as anyone who watched him bat against Lillee and Thomson in 1974-75 will attest, as would his major me- mento from that tour - his concave protector. I also remember his coming back to international cricket for what must have been about his third spell and preparing himself to bat on this very ground at Headingley against the West Indies in a one-day inter- national.

Grim determination just about summed it up, only par- tially disguised by that perennial jocularity of his which dried up for quite some time when he was struck on the elbow by Malcolm Marshall early in his innings.

In those days one arrived for international duty on the assumption that you came fully equipped with the tech- nical and mental skills required to do battle. Motivation was supplied courtesy of the England cap. Maybe David's own trials at the Test crease have kept him aware of the fact that not all sportsmen are as mentally fit all of the time as is re- quired and he has done his best to keep his men both mentally and physically as fit as possible to help them produce of their best.

It all boils down to talent. Is this combination the one that unites the maximum available to England? With hind- sight, this pitch would probably have suited Andy Caddick more than Mike Smith, the former of a height and style that would have made more of the variety of bounce.

What of Mark Ealham? He is a very worthy cricketer and his 53 not out at Edgbaston was just the sort of contribution England would require from their No 7. In common with some of his colleagues higher up the order he has been unable to repeat the dose and, in as much as his captain has not been itch- ing to use him much with the ball, it leaves him vulnerable to the challenge of anyone called Hollioake.

Ben of that ilk is the most promising but, I feel, still too raw to hit the Test scene in this situation. He has come a mighty long way at the age of 19 but, if one needs an up-to-date comparison, Ricky Ponting, a player every bit as precocious at that age and more, had to wait until just short of his 21st birthday for his first chance.

For Ben Hollioake, though, I feel that another year or so of development in the first-class game would not go amiss, so perhaps it is time for his elder brother to step for- ward and rekindle memories of those Texaco Trophy victories. Wholesale changes I would not condone.

Ponting revives winning script

By Peter Roebuck

SIX years ago Ricky Ponting played a forcing stroke off the back foot that sped to the straight boundary. Only once in a mostly unproductive career had I managed such a shot, and that was in Corfu, before the riot began. Ponting was 17 and already batting on a different plane. His destiny was clear, not least to himself. A winter at the Academy, a few hundreds in Shield cricket and then entry at an early age into the Aus- tralian side followed by an outstanding career.

Mostly it has turned out according to script. Between times, though, there have been some bumps on the road, the in- evitable burps of every career, thwarting and challenging the player until he rises or falls in a heap of self-recrimina- tion.

Soon after playing his sumptuous stroke, Ponting lost his wicket carelessly, a custom he has only recently aban- doned in the rubble of a temporarily blighted career. A few dis- creet minutes later I went into the dressing room to inter- view him. One was struck immediately by the power within Ponting, the feeling that here was someone unusual. He was shy, pow- erfully built and pugnacious. To meet him was to suspect that umpires and bowlers alike might be in for a rough ride.

Ponting was a young man embarking on a journey, a cricketer intending to climb and climb until the oxygen ran out and entirely impervious to the dangers of vertigo. Herein can be detected the difference between the current crop of Australians and their counterparts in the home camp. To these visi- tors a Test match is an opportunity, almost an adventure. To some Englishmen it can seem like an ordeal.

To see the faces of Graham Thorpe and Mike Smith in Leeds, for instance, was to sense an exhaustion and tension absent in their opponents. These Australians play with a crisp- ness telling of the uncluttered mind.

Ponting's rise has not been entirely straightforward. Energetic youngsters seldom proceed along orthodox lines. First they must explore their own talents, must reach their own boundaries. To rely upon the experiences of older players is to accept a false limitation. At first it went well as teenage hundreds took him into the Test team. The boy seemed capable of anything. What might the man achieve?

Nor did the Australian selectors hesitate to give Ponting his head, so that he was placed at first wicket down upon the retirement of his Tasmanian stablemate, David Boon.

Now came a bump. Boon is a batsman of various tempers. Ponting proved less adaptable and intemperance regularly brought him down. Nor had he studied the craft of batting. Instead he relied on eye and sharp footwork to see him through. Not that it is a bad combination. But he lacked the patience to score bad runs on the hard days. In short, he rose somewhat in advance of his own maturity. And it is small use for a player's game to be ready for a challenge if his head lags be- hind.

Probably Ponting was unlucky to be dropped after only two matches of the Test series against West Indies last winter. He batted bravely and importantly in Brisbane, hooking fearlessly and generally enjoying the fight. There seemed no helter skelter reason to drop him. And yet he had not yet quite appeared a man out there for the unsettled spirit of youth still called loud.

Plainly Ponting has been helped by the selectorial ruthless or folly, call it what you will, that sent him doom-faced back to Launceston. Now he had to score some runs. Hardened by adversity and growing more selective, he forced his way into the Ashes party. And then he strayed again, as hotness returned amid the frustration of waiting upon his chance. He wanted to be dancing on the stage, not watching in the wings.

At last, in Leeds, another chance came. And he took it admirably. His path has been slow. Now he bats at six, where he will remain until he has learnt the ropes, whereupon high responsibility will be bestowed again. He must add weight of mind to weight of runs.

In Leeds he accomplished these tasks superbly. Aus- tralia were 50 for four as he took guard - hardly a propitious moment. Moreover the visitors had been distracted by England's supposed subterfuge over the pitch. Australia's reaction to the change of pitch was overheated to the point of hysteria. An entirely acceptable surface has been provided for this contest.

Before long Ponting was in full flow, a cat at the crease pouncing upon rats and mice. His footwork was quick and precise and he drove powerfully off both feet and flicked wris- tily through square leg for he combines the Anglo-Saxon and Oriental traditions.

He might have scored a hundred on his Test debut against Sri Lanka but for a decision given when an umpire's eye- sight temporarily failed him, and now he hurried to his hun- dred with a series of crunching strokes. At last he departed to an overambitious shot, whereupon he left the field full of chagrin and wasted runs. Of course, it helped that Eng- land had chosen an attack unduly similar and unsuited to this pitch. Nevertheless it was not a bad effort.

Matthew Elliott and Ponting were quite a combination, tall and short, left and right, phlegmatic and perky, ancient and modern. In partnership they dismembered their flounder- ing opponents. England have suffered at the hands of some notably accomplished young cricketers. If defeat comes along, as appears certain, the consequences could be consider- able, not least for the captain of a fading home team.

Michael Atherton cannot be blamed for the absence of greatness from English cricket or for its ineffective structures. Nor is it his fault that an inappropriate attack was chosen for this match. He might, though, have used Mark Ealham to stem the flow of runs on Friday afternoon. Doubtless he is frustrated by the stoicism of his own temperament. It is a strength and also a limitation.

Australian jibes turned to applause

By Simon Hughes

THE Australians have short fuses and long memories, as any champion team usually does. Nasser Hussain's disputed catch in the third Test may have been three weeks ago, but the Australians have not forgotten it. Their fury over a ball they believe bounced before Hussain clasped the edge from Greg Blewett's bat spilled over into the in- evitable on-field comments in this Test.

Hussain, already affected by some of the reporting of the incident, might have baulked at some of the remarks but rather than an- swering back, responded in the best possible way with the resonance of bat on ball. Actions speak louder than words.

Hussain's feisty, unbeaten century, his second of the series but following a sequence of 58 runs in five innings, silenced the rampant Australians and encouraged a boisterous (mainly male) crowd, in their togas, lampshades and skin-tight cocktail dresses, into full voice, and helped England to their best score since the second in- nings at Lord's.

The Australians applauded warmly when Hussain reached his hundred with a swivel pull for two, three overs from the close. So, too, did Graham Gooch, a major influence on Hussain, who was sitting on the players' balcony.

``He's a fighter,'' the former Essex batsman said, ``and always has been. I've known him since he was about eight. He seems to thrive in difficult conditions.

``In Nasser's first season at Essex we were docked 25 points for a dodgy pitch at Southend. He made a hundred on it. He works very hard at his game and he's very determined when conditions are against him.''

They were that here. Hussain came to the wicket at 28 for two, on the way out passing Mike Atherton who had just gloved a nasty lifter from Glenn McGrath. ``Get stuck in,'' his captain implored as they crossed on the outfield. He soon lost Alec Stewart but Hussain and his kindred spirit, Graham Thorpe, blocked their ears and set about re- pairing the damage. A repeat of their magnificent 288-run partnership at Edgbaston was not to be as Thorpe edged a rising length ball from Jason Gillespie.

But Hussain delivered his pre-match promise to bat positively and dealt adeptly with some unusual Australian field settings, in- cluding an imaginative short mid-wicket. As usual he seized on any- thing short, slashing McGrath and Paul Reiffel. And if they occasionally overpitched he punched the ball through the covers so emphati- cally he didn't need to run.

When Shane Warne came on, he was swept eagerly. Hussain reached fifty off only 79 balls and continued to generate considerable bat- speed, but the bowlers could find no way past his watchful defence. Balls often jumped off a length, but he was fastidiously behind them, tak- ing several blows on the hands, and able to adjust wristily to movement.

He surged through the 70s, glided to 90, but then endured a sticky period as the bowlers tightened their line before reaching his landmark in a shade under four hours.

His unbroken stand of 123 with John Crawley has given England just a glimmer of hope and David Lloyd, the England coach, said as much when he observed: ``We're still in the game going into day five, and we've got a partnership going. Part of our opponents' game is mental strength and you've got to match it and give 'em a bit back.

``With two games after this and Australia striving for a win here, and us looking to come away unscathed and keep the series all square, it's an important day. It should be good value for five quid.''

Australia's last five wickets added 451, casting aspersions on England's bowling options. ``Hindsight is a wonderful thing,'' Lloyd said. ``Fred Trueman reckoned his cat could bowl better than Mike Smith,'' someone observed. ``Fred's from Yorkshire,'' Lloyd added drily.

Reiffel raises the tempo

By Ian Chappell

AUSTRALIA always give themselves a good chance of winning Test matches because the batsmen score quickly, which then leaves the bowlers plenty of time to take the 20 wickets.

The batting of Matthew Elliott and Ricky Ponting was a revelation and even the loss of his younger partner couldn't stop the left- handed opener. Elliott has now moved into the category of match-win- ner and when his innings ended abruptly, one run short of a double century, it was a surprise. He was probably out-thought by Darren Gough, who produced a yorker aimed at leg stump which may have brought a glint to Elliott's eye, but the late swing beat him and skittled off stump.

With the pattern having been set by Elliott and Ponting, even the lower order batsmen scored freely. Paul Reiffel played as though he had been handed the pinch- hitter's card for a oneday game and he raced to his third Test half-century off only 61 balls. To rub England's noses into it, Glenn McGrath reached only his second twenty in a Test. This was the ultimate indictment of England's bowl- ing.

On a pitch that still contained plenty of encouragement for the bowlers, England's (with some fumble-fingered assistance from the fieldsmen) had allowed the opposition to score 500.

The state of the pitch was soon put into context when McGrath swapped his bat for a new cherry. He made the ball move off the seam to claim his first victim and then climb steeply to reduce England's chances of survival by getting rid of the captain. Mike Atherton must have left the crease wondering how he can wangle an opportunity to face his own bowlers.

The other advantage the Australian bowlers have over their English counterparts is better field support. When Graham Thorpe poked at a sharp delivery from Jason Gillespie the ball flew wide of Ian Healy who deflected it off the end of his fingers and Mark Waugh took a brilliant reflex, rebound catch. As always Waugh made a diffi- cult task look simple, a gentle reminder to the England left-hander that it is important not to drop catches.

Principle boys keep Australia on top of world By Mark Nicholas

ENGLAND are on the wrong end of this match because technically they are at the wrong end of the world. There are other reasons of course, like Australia's presence of mind and uninhibited self-belief, but Down Under they keep it a simple game by allowing basic prin- ciples to invade their performance.

Sure, England had the worst of the weather conditions in the first innings; sure, the pitch improved for batting on Friday and, quite probably, England were unlucky that the ball they picked was not one that swung. For all that, and for the certain fact that Eng- land are a much better team than they were nine months ago - a team to challenge any in the world - they are not as good as Australia. Since Australia are now playing to their ability, they are dominating again.

The partnership of 268 by Matthew Elliott and Ricky Ponting explained everything quite clearly. Australia were deep in it, so to speak, at 50 for four when they began batting together. Elliott had been badly dropped two balls before; Ponting had been ignored by the se- lectors since the third Test against the West Indies three series ago and had not been his fluent batting self on this tour, not even against the counties, whom he does not much rate. Elliott is 25 and play- ing in his ninth Test, Ponting is 22 and playing in his seventh Test. They would, one might imagine, be a little guarded in their response to a crisis and take a moment to find their feet.

Hardly. They took the game by the scruff of the neck and even before they passed England's score they appeared to control it. Their partnership came at faster than a run a minute as neither man gave a fig for their relative inexperience or their team's likely collapse to a first-innings deficit had they lost their wicket.

They benefited from knowing no fear, as tends to be the case with the young, and from the inherent self-belief that comes from ex- cellent technical skills and a deep-rooted cricketing education. Like golfers whose swing holds its shape and its nerve under pressure, so Elliott and Ponting held their long prepared and practised attributes when Australia most needed them.

Elliott's batting is remarkable and you feel it is just beginning. It is as if he has gone up a notch each time you watch him; as if he learns about defence and offence by the hour; as if he invents a stroke a week. His long strides forward to drive, his improved placement through straight midwicket and, most exciting of all, his back-foot slashes past gully are complemented by the straight- est and most upright of defensive bats and a balanced and still head which is the key to all batting. His conflict with the hook stroke con- tinues, a vignette in his enthralling head-to-head with Darren Gough, but even his control of that, most demanding and unpredictable stroke, has improved since the beginning of the tour.

Ponting is a picture postcard of an Australian batsman: compact, neat, precise and without apparent weakness. He is one of that spe- cial breed whose bat appears to be an extension of his arms and whose minute flick of the wrists and turns of the body direct the ball be- tween fielders and on, with surprising power, to the boundary. He is as organised in the cover drive as he is fast on to the pull. If there is an image of how Bradman played then Ponting, another man of low gravity and fast footwork, is the modern Australian nearest to that image.

The techniques of these two - sideways on and with the full face of the blade presented to the bowler - allied to their instinc- tive appreciation of when and when not to attack is in contrast to the England batsmen whose unfathomable inconsistencies betray their considerable ability and whose shot selection sometimes be- trays their concentration. Compare Elliott's increasingly positive move- ment forward to defend, with Mark Butcher's indeterminate, lazy sort of push yesterday at Glenn McGrath which cost him his promising innings.

This is not to berate England, for Nasser Hussain's bloodyminded commitment and his flair once set in his innings, John Craw- ley's natural technique and easy style and Michael Atherton's straight bat and strength of character have again suggested that the foun- dations are there for a quality batting team. But the inconsistency illustrates the problems faced by English cricket in relation to the overall soundness of the Australian game.

In general, English players have an Achilles heel in their mental approach to long and tough matches and a measure of their out- ward confidence is based on bravado rather than built through the habit of winning. The lack of intensity in school, club and second eleven cricket played during the crucial development years, say be- tween 14 and 20, must be addressed by the England and Wales Cricket Board in their plans for a new structure.

Lastly, it is worth considering the strength of the bowling when comparing England's batting with the Australians'. Never mind the extra bounce and penetration found by the Australians; just consider the amount of loose stuff that Ian Healy and Paul Reiffel fed off, let alone Elliott and Ponting.

England's best-balanced seam bowling attack of this summer played at Edgbaston: fast (Devon Malcolm), tall and bouncy (Andrew Cad- dick), invention, spirit and swing (Gough), accuracy and skid (Mark Ealham). The Test was won.

Only two of these are playing at Headingley. The Dean Headley of Manchester is a valuable find but would Australia rather bat against that Edgbaston attack or this one? More food for thought.

Elliott's 199 leads charge for youth

By Greg Baum

THOUGH England and, more particularly, the English weather are still to be beaten, Australia have already had an im- portant victory at Headingley.

It is the victory of knowing their Test future is not only in safe hands, but that there are hands itching to seize that future, rather than await for it to fall into them. It is the victory of the realised promise.

On Saturday, a 268-run partnership for the fifth wicket between Matthew Elliott and Ricky Ponting (126) capitalised on the magnificent fast bowling of fellow Test rookie Jason Gillespie the previous day.

Resuming at 5-373 on day four with Elliott on 164 and Ian Healy 27, the Victorian fell one agonising run shy of his double century, bowled by the irrepressible Darren Gough.

After losing the wickets of Healy (31) and Shane Warne (0) to the same Mark Ealham over soon after the resumption, Elliott and Paul Reiffel (54 not out) put on a lively 61 in 50 minutes for the eighth wicket before Gough slipped one through Elliott's guard.

Elliott's 455-minute innings, which included 23 bound- aries and three sixes, steered Australia to a total of 9-501 - a lead of 329 on the first innings.

At Old Trafford in the third Test, Australia recovered to level the series largely through the hardheadedness of the Steve Waugh, Warne and Healy.

They with Mark Taylor and Mark Waugh are the core of the side, but they are also all in their thirties, except Warne, and he has had so much cricket that he will not guarantee him- self to be around for the next Ashes tour.

At Headingley, the men who have given Australia the as- cendancy are Gillespie, Elliott and Ponting. Their ages are 22, 25 and 22 respectively, and they are the three least-capped players in the team, with a total of 22 among them before this match.

They are the future.

Moreover, they are claiming their inheritance with at- titude as much as aptitude. All had dramatic setbacks last Aus- tralian summer. Gillespie and Elliott had severe injuries and Ponting was dropped, a stroke of selection that looked prema- ture at the time and doubly so now.

All are hardier for their fightbacks. It is not true to say they have the fearlessness of youth. They know all too well about injuries, competition from within and fickleness of form.

But rather than cower from these fears, they attack them.

Gillespie, in one of his rare public utterances, said recently: ``The wickets here are quite helpful. I don't know why people say they're not. I think they're great.''

Whereupon he charged in so maniacally on Friday that Healy, according to Warne, could not remember keeping to a faster spell in Test cricket.

Elliott, having already seen Taylor fall before a run was on the board, launched Australia's innings with a four and a six from Dean Headley.

Both were from the hook, the shot he thought briefly about putting away after the third Test until he reminded himself that there was no advance to be made from retreat, and the shot that Allan Donald has said publicly will be Elliott's undoing against him next summer in Australia.

``He may well be able to get me out on the hook. He has done in the past,'' Elliott said. ``But it's a shot that's got me a lot of runs.

``I'm really looking forward to the opportunity of play- ing him in Australia. If it's there, I'll be playing it.''

Ponting was no less brazen than Elliott. Since Aus- tralia were 4-50 when he came in, and since this was the re-launch of his Test career, he might have been forgiven some initial tempering of his strokeplay.

He looked at an interviewer who said as much as if he had water on the brain.

Ponting plays with the Rod Marsh/Cricket Academy phi- losophy that a batting team must look always to make 300 in a day, on a good pitch or bad, against strong bowling or weak, for two wickets or 10.

``That's the way I play. The worst thing you can try to do is change your natural game too much,'' he said finally. ``I just try to be positive every time I bat.''

After half-an-hour, he had already justified selection ahead of Michael Bevan, for he was taking the game to and past England in a way Bevan had become incapable of in Test cricket.

Soon, Ponting was driving Gough, the pride of Heading- ley, off the back foot through cover, a shot that marks his class, and pulling the wretched Mike Smith a kilometre or so over square leg for six.

Having been robbed once already in the nineties in Test cricket, Ponting decided to give neither bowlers nor umpires a chance this time. Three fours in four balls from Headley dashed him to 99, and the last run was a formality.

``Huge one. My first Ashes Test. To get a hundred was very special,'' Ponting said. ``To be involved with a partner- ship with Matty that got us out of a bit of trouble and hopefully set up the game for us.''

Elliott and Ponting gave chances. Elliott might have been caught three times, and Ponting should have been stumped.

But only Elliott's first chance, and England's worst miss, was from a defensive edge. The others were offered in such a redblooded way as to defy England to take them. They didn't.

The most remarkable detail of the Elliott/Ponting part- nership of 268 was that it was made at better than run-a- minute. So rapidly and completely did they turn around the game that the loss of a further four hours of cricket on Saturday seemed not to matter.

They did what physicists say is impossible; they made time.

And they nearly left their mark in time. For a long while, it seemed they would break the Australian fifth-wicket record in England, 332, set on this very ground by Allan Border and Steve Waugh four years ago.

``Steve Waugh told us after the game he held the record with AB, and he'd like to see us break it,'' Ponting said.

From the old guard to the new, there could be no more genuine salute.

Fourth Test: Hussain's spirited response gives hope to England

IT is always unwise to underestimate the re- silience in adversity of Michael Atherton but there looks like being a grisly symmetry to the cycle as England captain which began after Australia had defeated England at Leeds four years ago, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

England (172 & 212-4) trail Australia (501-9dec) by 117 runs

That may be what frustrated England supporters will want if, as all cricketing logic decrees, England lose the fourth Test today and the dream of regaining the Ashes dies again.

The selectors will not necessarily concur - certainly not until the last two Tests have been played - and it is not what the players in Atherton's team will want either. Two of them did their best to demonstrate as much when Nasser Hussain courageously led his fifth-wicket partner John Crawley in a partnership of 123 which has taken the game into the fifth day today with Australia's lead reduced to 117. Both batted with a mixture of bravery, skill and occasional luck after England had sunk to 89 for four.

On a pitch which is occasionally producing both brutish lifters and unplayable shooters, the odds against a draw are still long indeed. Already 329 behind when they began their second innings after lunch, and quoted by Ladbrokes at 500-1 against to win, England will need to bat until after tea to save the game. The forecast is for a fine day.

For Hussain an innings of 101 not out was his fifth Test hundred in little more than a year. He would have been run out for nought had Ricky Ponting, one of Saturday's heroes, not missed the stumps and conceded four overthrows as he swooped from cover, but, after being rapped on the gloves sev- eral times early in his innings, this was admirable proof both of his physical courage and his mental tenacity. He held the fort for almost four hours.

Crawley's 48 not out in 158 minutes of correct and un- flappable batting was further confirmation of the class and tem- perament which ought by now to have earned him a higher place in the order. He remained calm despite a mass Australian cele- bration when a bouncer from Glenn McGrath brushed his shoulder on the way to Ian Healy's gloves after he had scored only sev- en. So, too, did the umpire concerned, Cyril Mitchley, who waited until close of play to speak to McGrath but did not report him despite a show of disgruntlement which could only be interpreted as dissent by the standards of other simi- lar incidents.

Cammie Smith, the ICC referee, took a similarly chari- table view, which may partly have been the result of a plea from the Test captains at their meeting 10 days ago that there should be allowance for frustration in the heat of the battle. It will not stop young fast bowlers thinking that this is the way to behave, which it is not. Both sides in this series have been guilty of celebrating 'wickets' before the umpire has lifted his finger.

I am sure that McGrath genuinely thought that the ball had touched Crawley's glove, not, as the replay suggested, his shoulder, and presumably the slip fielders agreed. Righteous indignation became prolonged fury as McGrath glared and chuntered for several overs.

Australian frustration resurfaced when Ponting took a kick at the stumps after missing another possible run-out and again when Hussain, 95 not out, got the benefit of the doubt from umpire Mervyn Kitchen when he missed a sweep at a full toss. This time it was Shane Warne, the bowler, and Healy from behind the stumps, who reacted theatrically, but again televi- sion suggested that the umpire was right.

That such passion should ever have become necessary was a tribute indeed to the fifth-wicket pair after a weekend dominated by Australia's own, far more imposing fifth- wicket partnership. Ponting and Matthew Elliott had extended their stand to 268 when Ponting, with only a stumping escape off Robert Croft to mar an innings of keen-eyed, quick- footed brilliance, finally skied a pull on Saturday morning. Elliott, his footwork every bit as assured, anchored the final assault yesterday morning after the loss of the last four hours to heavy rain on the previous afternoon.

He had played more or less immaculately for more than seven hours when, after 15 overs yesterday, he finally played over the top of the first of the two yorkers which gave Dar- ren Gough a hard-earned five-wicket analysis. His 23 fours and three sixes underlined that he hardly missed a scoring oppor- tunity against England bowling which, above all, lacked pa- tience. Mark Ealham, who picked up the first two wickets yesterday in the third over of the day, was an exception, but Mike Smith, cruelly disillusioned by the realities of Test cricket, perhaps tried to bowl a little faster than normal.

He was treated with relish by Paul Reiffel, who drove with great confidence through extra cover, adding 54 enter- prising runs to the 76 he had made at Old Trafford. This was the third time in the last three Leeds Tests that Australia had made over 500 against England: in 1989 and 1993 they actually ex- ceeded 600. Still more graphic is this extraordinary fact: now that Ponting has come aboard, the top seven Australian bats- men have all made their maiden Test hundred against England.

If Atherton does either resign or have the job taken from him by the selectors, if or when the quest for the Ashes has finally failed, it will be more than anything because McGrath has got the measure of him as an opening batsman. Mark Butcher had already edged a ball which straightened from round the wicket when Atherton spliced a searing lifter to third slip in the fifth over. By bowling very straight at his body, McGrath has now dismissed Atherton five times in his eight in- nings.

Alec Stewart, following scores of 1, 13, 30, 1 and 7 since the first Test, did well for 40 minutes yesterday but a shooter which took his bottom edge on its way to the stumps was just the sort of ball batsmen fear on an under-prepared pitch. Graham Thorpe, like Hussain, stayed mainly on the back foot and he, too, lasted 40 minutes but a lifting delivery from Jason Gillespie was alertly caught by Mark Waugh off a re- bound from Healy, diving left.

More than two hours' cricket remained on a sunny evening. They produced combative cricket, to the relief of every Eng- land supporter, but it is too soon for a repeat of 1981.

Day 5

Fourth Test: England fail to seize chances

AUSTRALIA duly won the fourth Test comprehensive- ly, as they had the third, despite cool and elegant bat- ting from John Crawley. Making short work of the England tail with the second new ball, their margin of victory was huge: an innings and 61 runs, writes Christopher Martin- Jenkins

Australia (501-9dec) bt England (172 & 268) by an in- nings and 61 runs

[LINK] They have made an outstanding comeback from their defeat at Edgbaston, and for the first time since 1981 it now looks certain that the Ashes will be won by the side who lost the first match of the rubber.

The pragmatic but less than honourable strategy of keeping pitches green and a little damp for the first day of each match has worked for England only once: Mark Taylor has won the toss every time and he has shown by batting at Old Trafford and fielding here that he has the players to win either way.

This time Paul Reiffel took five wickets and it was he who bowled Crawley after Nasser Hussain had been deceived by Shane Warne's flight and had driven to mid-off in the fifth over of the day.

One by one, the Australians are finding men for the oc- casion. In Manchester, it was Warne, Ian Healy and Steve Waugh; this time, it was Reiffel, Matthew Elliott, Ricky Ponting and the official man of the match, Jason Gillespie. Mark Waugh has not yet got the runs expected but there are two pitches to come which may suit him and he produced a brilliant catch at second slip yesterday, flinging himself to his right to catch a ferocious slash from Mark Ealham, who had battled for 65 minutes before the new ball was taken.

That Gillespie took only Darren Gough's wicket yester- day had nothing to do with bowling any less formidably than he had on the fateful second morning. He bowled with great pace and hostility again and only Crawley's technique and courage kept him at bay until Reiffel knocked back his off stump with an inswinger of perfect length.

England's sole happy moment after that was the one when Mike Smith, having been refused an easy single by his short- lived partner, Robert Croft, struck Gillespie handsomely through extra cover to ensure that, whether he plays another Test or not, he will at least have made four runs. His boundary finished the morning's play but the first ball after lunch was too good for Croft.

Only the post-mortems remained. Taylor's sole signifi- cant batting contribution has been in defeat but he has pulled the strings with his customary originality and shrewdness since and he summed up the position now succinctly: ``We've turned our game round since Edgbaston and forced England to play to a lesser standard. I guess it's up to them to do the same at Trent Bridge.''

Mike Atherton could only take his blow on the chin. ``It's about taking your opportunities,'' he said, as if on sound- bite autopilot. ``Against a good side like Australia, you don't get many. When we've had ours, we haven't taken them.''

England were outplayed in the early stages of the game, when it mattered most. The collapse against Gillespie made it three paltry first-innings scores in succession: 77, 162 and 172. For the third match running, too, it was dropped catches which allowed Australia to capitalise.

Australia scored at four an over here, not by taking outrageous risks but by putting away bad balls with unerring efficiency. Elliott and Ponting played superbly, but if Ponting had been left with the second half of the order to protect, as he should have been, rather than being able to start his innings with a player who was well set and had just been given a new lease of life, it may have been a different story.

There were two significant little signs of the Aus- tralians' deep commitment to one another shortly before England's first innings fell apart on Friday and at a time when Ather- ton and Dean Headley were making a deceptively good start. First, when Warne made a brilliant stop at third slip to save four runs, Healy ran across to give him a special pat on the back. A moment or two later, the ball was returned to the bowler, Reiffel, who missed it. Glenn McGrath, though he was bowling at the other end, ran 20 yards behind Reiffel to pick up the ball.

Hindsight says that England should have played Andrew Caddick here, not Smith, and Atherton was in favour of doing so. Variable bounce proved a far more potent weapon than swing. Again, however, it is facile to say with confidence that Caddick might have made a significant difference.

In a way, Caddick epitomises the inconsistency which blights English bowling generally. Until Dominic Cork is back, fit in mind and body, as he might be by the time the last Test is played at the Oval in a little more than three weeks' time, England cannot field their best attack.

As for the batting, a judgment will have to be made about Graham Thorpe's confidence, but I doubt that there is a strong case for dropping him or Alec Stewart.

Neither of the Hollioake brothers is demanding to re- place one of the top seven by virtue of weight of runs in county cricket, but in Cork's absence, a case could be made for Adam Hollioake to replace Ealham and bolster the lower-order batting. There is now, however, an unanswerable case for Crawley to swap places with Stewart and Trent Bridge would be an excellent place for him to start.

Warne and Reiffel hit the target for series lead

By Greg Baum

SHANE WARNE has said repeatedly that he would be happy to take only one wicket a match if it was a big one.

It took him until the last day to take a wicket in the fourth Test at Headingley on Monday, but when he did, it was the biggest of the match, for it precipitated victory for Australia, and as good as guaranteed that they would keep The Ashes for another cycle.

Warne seduced Nasser Hussain into a loose drive at the 18th ball of the morning and had him caught at mid-off.

Hussain, who had added just one boundary to his overnight 101, walked off with his head bowed, and to numb silence, leaving England 5-222.

A stubborn partnership between John Crawley and Mark Ealham revived England's hopes for holding out for the draw, before a flash of Mark Waugh brilliance intervened.

Waugh made a freakish one-handed grab at second slip off Paul Reiffel to send Ealham back for four runs. Reiffel then bowled Crawley with an off-cutter for a stout 72, and trapped Dean Headley lbw, the first such dismissal of the match.

Gillespie than had Darren Gouch taken by Mark Waugh for a firstball duck, completing a pair for the darling of Headingley. Lunch was taken and then came the last rights, it only took one minute and one ball - Reiffel claiming Robert Croft with his first delivery after the break, and Eng- land were gone for 268.

In the pavilion, Hussain watched and figuratively wept.It was cricket at its least just.

For four hours on Sunday night, Hussain had squared up to the vagaries of this odd-bouncing pitch and an Australian attack that England admitted was better suited to exploit them. He took their best blows and struck several of his own, and made his second hundred of the series.

Separately, he had to deal with a verbal barrage from the Australians, who have still not forgiven him for the infamous Blewett catch at Old Trafford. At point, umpire Cyril Mitchley appeared to remonstrate with Australian captain Mark Taylor, though both men denied there was anything serious in it.

``Nasser matched the mental strength of the best team in the world,'' said England coach David Lloyd. ``There are a lot of players who would have buckled under that pressure.''

Hussain and the undervalued Crawley stood together for 2 hours in a partnership that revived England's hopes of saving this match and, in more fanciful minds, filled with nostal- gic memories of the 1981 Ashes Test here, of winning it.

But as so often happens, the new day brought a new tale. As also so often happens, Warne was in the thick of it. England's manoeuvring of the pitch before this match was meant to blunt him, but he was never likely to take away all his edge.

Australia's tail had been drooping on Sunday night, but at Hussain's dismissal was up again. Though Crawley was still unbeaten, they were through to England's tail and stood again to seize the lead in this series before the day was out.

The best Lloyd could promise about England, and threat- en to Australia, was that his team would scrap to the finish.

``The team we're playing scraps like tigers,'' he said. ``They're the yardstick for world cricket.''

But the omens were plentiful. The skies above Heading- ley were steely grey, and just after midday, the new ball fell due. Immediately in the hands of Jason Gillespie, it was a grenade, spluttering along at all sorts of angles and heights.

The combination of new ball and cloud has been potent in this match, for true to Headingley tradition, it has exag- gerated the variable bounce that has been the major feature of this pitch.

For the first time on tour, Australia were glad to awake to a dull morning (providing, of course, it did not lead to rain). Their bowlers would surely need only to keep their cool and their line to deliver victory.

Indeed, there were clouds in every quarter. One hovered again above England captain Mike Atherton. The competitive press here is both calling for his head and predicting for it to be guillotined if England lost here.

This is notwithstanding the fact England appointed him for the series, that they are seeking stability under him, and that there is no obvious successor.

Hussain is vice-captain and hero of the hour, but was not even in the team just over a year ago. The previous vice- captain, Alec Stewart, averaged 22 against Australia and 18 in the series and needs obviously to get a grip on his own game.

None the less, the frenzy had begun. One tabloid on Monday summarily sacked five of this team - Graham Thorpe, Robert Croft, Stewart, Mark Ealham and Mike Smith.

There the paper's imagination ran out, for of the five ``faces of the future'' it named, only Ben Hollioake was gen- uinely new. The others, Mark Ramprakash, Phil Tufnell, Jack Russell and Andy Caddick, have been and gone many times before, and probably sacked by the same tabloid just as often.

Flab shows as England are caught naked again

By Martin Johnson

STREAKING being the kind of exercise rarely undertaken without several hours of serious lubrication, England's early capitulation at least had the virtue of prompting the first fullyclothed crowd in- vasion of the match. In terms of the rest of this series, however, it is England themselves who are naked and exposed.

Looking on the bright side, England have at least delayed the traditional soul-searching until the series is more than half over, rather than, as is normally the case, before it has barely be- gun. Here we go again with the ``what can we do to sort out English cricket?'' debate. Start an academy? Re-vamp the county championship? Chuck out the overseas players? Organise a series with Papua New Guinea? Pray a bit harder?

All these questions are currently being addressed by the England and Wales Cricket Board, and, more particularly, by its chairman, Lord MacLaurin. His Lordship's judgements are due to be made public a week today and, as a former chairman of Tesco, we can doubtless ex- pect several discontinued lines and a long list of items deemed to be past their sell-by date.

One question up for debate is whether Michael Atherton's captaincy should now be heading for the checkout counter. His bad back takes him more to the angling lake than the golf course nowadays, and in terms of the talent available to him, it is hard to remain upbeat if you are fishing for trout in a pond full of tadpoles.

It may well be that the angler's solitude has given him a feel for the long silence, although his ever more deliberate and economical press conference answers are an inevitable by-product of prolonged exposure to the job. When you've had your 1,000th ``where did it all go wrong, Michael?'' inquiry, anyone is entitled to a weary response.

Asked yesterday whether he was still enjoying the captaincy, Atherton's long pause, followed by a ``yes'', was delivered with all the conviction of one of those captured American pilots in Vietnam staring into a TV camera and talking about how well he was being treated. He does not enjoy seeing people in baggy green caps spraying champagne all over English Test match balconies.

The one genuine light-hearted moment came when a radio interviewer asked him whether he had ``a message for the England cricket supporter?'' Atherton replied with a smile: ``Support-er?'' The radio man said: ``Well, support-ers then.'' The unique thing about Eng- land, as opposed to almost every other Test nation, is that they can still fill a ground when they're hopeless.

Atherton's message to them is that the series can still be won, but that it won't be if they keep missing chances to kick the op- position while they are down. ``You can't give sides like Australia sec- ond chances, as we have done both at Old Trafford and here, and get away with it,'' said Atherton.

Sadly, Australia have been getting out of tight situations against England for the past 10 years, a by-product of their superior resolve and stomach for a fight. They play pretty hard (Jason Gille- spie said that he planned to celebrate his man of the match award with ``several drinks in a very short space of time'') but no side is better drilled, or focused, when it gets on to the field.

England, by contrast, have too many flabby moments, as we saw in the last over before lunch, with the last pair at the wicket. Nei- ther Mike Smith nor Robert Croft had much interest in being at the busi- ness end when Gillespie was banging it in halfway down, hence Smith's joyful shout of a ``yes'' when, from a position dangerously close to short leg, he steered one into a very large offside gap.

``No thanks, boyo,'' was the gist of Croft's reply, presumably on the grounds that he thought getting back to the non-striker's end might have constituted a risky second run. As plucky Welsh rearguard actions go, it was not quite the stuff of Rorke's Drift, but now that England are one down with two to play, calling for the sandbags is no good any more. Then again, if you're astride a pantomime horse, neither is the cavalry charge.

Scar tissue building up

By Ian Chappell

THE Australians have now gained an enormous psychological advantage over England, in addition to the one game lead they hold.

Not only have Australia overwhelmed England in the last two Tests, they have also administered the beatings in a fashion similar to previous hidings handed out in 1989 and 1993. Mike Atherton was desperate to avoid Australia building up a big lead so that they had the opportunity to steamroller the England batting in the sec- ond innings. That is exactly what happened at Old Trafford and the dose was repeated at Headingley. The recurring nightmares must be vivid and horrid for the England captain.

This will be a hard trend for England to reverse as it involves mental scarring for both the batsmen and bowlers. The only issue Aus- tralia now have left to resolve is Mark Taylor's repeated failures - seeing they've ignored them for so long it is reasonable to assume they will continue to do so.

The Australian camp will more likely spend their time in delighting that most of the ground work for this victory was done by the younger brigade. The contributions of Jason Gillespie, Matthew Elliott and Ricky Ponting were the equal of those provided by the senior members of the team at Old Trafford.

On the last morning it was Shane Warne who started England's downward spiral and Paul Reiffel applied the grease to the pole by bowling an exceptional spell of seam and swing. Reiffel has done every- thing to embarrass the selectors who left him out of the original party and at Headingley Ponting followed his example.

As England slid to defeat they were helped on their way by the magical Mark Waugh in the slips. He took two sharp catches, the first one being a typical Waugh effort. He caught the ball behind him (as if traditional slip catching isn't difficult enough) and then showed Graham Thorpe how the fast moving ball is caught in front of the eyes. The scary thing for England is that Mark's contributions in the series so far have been extremely minor and that can't keep happen- ing.

So once again the England team would have been subjected to another raucous Australian dressing room ringing out with a rendition of Under the Southern Cross. I wonder how many of this party will hear it again and how many more times Atherton can stand to hear the words ``Australia you @#*% beauty''?

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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