Aussies collapse to revitalised England
Watching England bat is a perilous occupation at the best of times. On how many occasions have seemingly impregnable positions been frittered away with hideous, stunningly awful collapses that transform the other side from apparent underdogs to overwhelming favourites?
How glorious it is to report, then, that the boot was most certainly on the other foot on Friday at Lord's - when the final session was played under slate-grey skies that are usually a recipe for depression on an English summer's day.
England's first-innings total of 425 looked no better than moderately good on a Lord's wicket which has rewarded the batsmen far more than the bowlers in producing six draws and just one positive result in the seven Tests played here since the 2005 Ashes.
When Australia slumped to 10-2 England's score looked a really good one, but then it looked pretty average once again when Simon Katich and Michael Hussey were together in a largely untroubled partnership that began before lunch and was only ended after tea.
Crucially though, captain Andrew Strauss had maximised the resources afforded to him by a five-man bowling attack - a rare luxury in modern Test cricket despite the abundance of flat wickets - because Andrew Flintoff was well rested when the final session began.
He absolutely motored in, almost hurling his body at the batsmen as well as the ball, and though it was Graham Onions' wicket that started the Australian rot, there was a new-found edge to the cricket that could only be explained by Flintoff's bowling.
The best and possibly fastest delivery of the day, bowled by Flintoff at a formidable 95.1mph, ended Michael Hussey's innings on 51, and the floodgates were open for James Anderson and Stuart Broad - the fittest pacemen in the side - to ride roughshod over the lower order, which they did in devastating fashion.
One rather important footnote remains. It was not just brilliant bowling that accounted for Australia's demise. Of the eight batsmen dismissed, shockingly five went playing some kind of hook or pull shot that did not come off.
This was a massive jolt to the system for those of us who have watched dozens of Australian batsmen play that shot with supreme skill over the years.
The last Ashes Test I had seen in the flesh, at Brisbane in 2006 in admittedly very different conditions, had featured some sublime Aussie pulling. But at Lord's on Friday the Australians pulled enthusiastically but with spectacularly poor reward - like boarding-school teenagers let loose in the West End for a night.
Some of their difficulties could perhaps be explained by the poor, floodlit-assisted conditions late in the day, and some by intelligent bowling from England - whose bowlers did not overdo the short ball, and in between offered few easy scoring opportunities.
More mundanely, the Australians felt pressure. Eschewing the tactic of self-denial that had proved so effective in Cardiff, they were lulled into the big shots, and a tiny percentage of doubt proved critical.
The Test is far from won, however. Against Sri Lanka in 2006, India in 2007 and South Africa last year England have reached tremendous positions in Lord's Tests only to have to settle for draws.
Dropped catches cost them three years ago, before the rain saved the Indians and a wicket that suddenly went flat scuppered them against Graeme Smith's men. England are in a good position, but much hard work remains if they are to secure their first win over Australia at Lord's since 1934.
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