The Ashes, Fourth Test, Day Three: The End is Nigh

We're nearly there, but a chance meeting with some ice has left me one hand down. At least I still have my mind and spirit, unlike Ricky Ponting. Four more wickets to retain The Ashes.
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This is painful. Every vowel, consonant and space hurts. And not because I was hoping for a champagne finale as you lot gorged on your fourth cooked breakfast in as many days. No, I think I've broken my sodding hand. Walking the dog last night, I slipped on some ice and landed heavily on my right fist, bunched against the cold. Instant agony. Overnight, it seems to have closed into a claw. I've had to move my mouse to the other side, I'm typing at a rate of sluggishness unseen since Ian Wright wrote his autobiography and I can't roll a fag or pick up a cup of tea. I'm neutered.

Ricky Ponting also has a broken finger, but I’m not sure that’s his problem. Mentally he is gone. Watching him bat last night was a sad state of affairs. Ponting has been one of the great attacking batsmen of the last decade. Full of buckle, swash and bravado, he has made tons of runs in the most exciting fashion. But last night, battling to save his career, team, reputation and The Ashes, he was reduced to a mere blocker. He faced 73 balls for his 20, was squared up with alarming regularity and looked about as comfortable as the Pope and Sepp Blatter in a 70s bathhouse in San Francisco. "Backs to the wall Sepp, and don't drop the soap…"

England now have two days to take the last four Australian wickets and retain The Ashes. It will happen. It might be quick, Haddin and Johnson may go beserk and bat for four sessions, but even allowing for a pitch as flat as Liam Gallgher's top end, Australia cannot save this test.

Most of the great England teams have had at least one Yorkshireman in the ranks. I wouldn't dare to yet say that Tim Bresnan can walk with giants such as Boycott, Gough, Hutton and the rest, but he bowled like a behemoth yesterday. His figures of 3-26, including splitting the stumps of the beleaguered Skipper, was as fine a performance by an England bowler in recent memory. With the gun getting up to 90mph, his line and length was immaculate. He may have benefited from the mental pressure exerted by the somehow wicketless Tremlett, but fast bowlers are meant to work in pairs and credit has to go to David Saker, the Australian born bowling coach, who has made the attack more than the sum of its considerable parts.

Ponting looked about as comfortable as the Pope and Sepp Blatter in a 70s bathhouse in San Francisco. "Backs to the wall Sepp, and don't drop the soap…"

What is also remarkable about Bresnan’s performance is that he has only played twice since late August. Twice. In days’ gone by, a big unit like Bresnan would have been full of pies and in no shape to step in at the 11th hour. If Andy Flower knows anything about football the FA should offer a dual role. This England team are a great mix of superstars and unsung heroes, and it is the latter group, Bres, Tremlett and Trott, who have lit up this test match.

Jonathan Trott isn’t so much in the limelight as the runner for the guy who operates it. In the 140 year history of test cricket, only three English batsmen have scored more runs than Trott in his first 17 tests. The names? Wally Hammond, Sir Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe. These are three of the greatest batsmen in the history of the game, let alone England. Trott now averages nearly 100 against Australia. Who does that? If it was KP he’d have it tattooed on his back. Trott just keeps it shut and worries about one thing and one thing only – runs.  He is the perfect number three. He digs in, plays safe and allows the rest to bat around him.

En gland did benefit from some atmospheric and topographical luck here. As the Aussies rattled through the tail, the pitch became more abrasive, a swirling wind blew up from Tasmania and the ball began to reverse. Apart from the first 45 minutes or so, when Watson and Hughes smashed everything on length or otherwise, England wrung every ounce out of the conditions. Australia might be playing badly, but these are still batsmen with test averages that stand up in any era.

England are better individually, better as a team and will surely retain The Ashes. The real test will come next summer when Tendulkar and co rock up on our septered Isle.

But that can wait, let’s enjoy the present.

I’m off from an X-ray. Tomorrow should be fun.

Anyone got a spare right hand?

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