Mea Culpa Monty

July 12, 2009

What a draw!

A lot of journalists will have been feverishly revising their dispatches in order to smear the egg off their professional faces after James Anderson and Monty Panesar managed to save the first test in Cardiff this evening. The least of them will be me, having pronounced the game lost at three o’clock.

As it turned out, Paul Collingwood, Andrew Flintoff, Graeme Swann, Anderson and Panesar provided enough lower order grit to overcome the flagging Australian attack, which was reduced (on captain’s unfathomable orders) to bowlers like Marcus North and Simon Katich in the last hour of the match. Peter Siddle was sidelined and, while Hilfenhaus bowled well, Mitchell Johnson struggled to hold a decent line. Hauritz bowled decently, but it wasn’t enough as Panesar and Anderson survived for 4o minutes, earning an improbable draw.

So England can head to Lords optimistic. The Australians have lost that killer instinct which in the late 90s  and early 00s would have seen England dispatched by lunch. As it was, while Hauritz extracted some fifth day turn, there was no Warne to call upon to mop up the tail. It may have been in order to try to bemuse the tail enders with unpredictable spin that Ponting turned to his part time spinners (though not Clarke?). It didn’t work. While the batting is formidable, the attack is weak. England can face them again without much fear, excepting those self generated fears which only upper order English batsmen can summon so deeply, and suicidally.

But optimisim is generally misplaced. The openers looked awful. Cook remains vulnerable outside his off stump. Strauss couldn’t be bothered to concentrate. Bopara was unlucky, but looked nervous. Pietersen is imperious to the point of nonchalance, and needs to be judged on the basis of big hundreds, not his flattering test average. Collingwood was the rock – maybe man of the match for his pressure batting, although Ponting was incredible. Flintoff looks promising, and his batting hasn’t looked this solid since 2005. Prior is as good a wicket-keeper batsman as England can field and, as mentioned before, the lower order is redoubtable.

But the upper order is flimsy, Pietersen included. The bowling too is effete, ill directed, unfocused and profligate with runs. None of the bowlers held a line or length sufficiently to exert prolonged pressure. The seamers did not experiment well enough in unfavorable conditions while the spinners were too predictable, and far too short.

Still, as bad as England were, Australia will be hugely deflated at not putting them away. Ponting’s captaincy will be shuddering and he’ll expect to be displaced if the series is drawn or lost. Mitchell Johnson was poor, as was Hauritz (fifth day wickets notwithstanding). Siddle and Hilfenhaus were workmanlike in a Corey Colleymore sort of way. No McGraths they.

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