Patchy England left searching for inspiration
A few years back, Sheffield United manager Dave Bassett decided to hold his club's Christmas party in August.
His reasoning was simple, if characteristically unhinged: his team always started the season in dreadful form before suddenly going on a brilliant run as soon as Santa Claus had been and gone. By throwing the party pre-season, he hoped to trigger that fine form from the very start.
Andrew Strauss might want to try something similar. For a second successive day, England wrestled the initiative back from Australia in an outstanding morning session before letting it slip away completely in a sobering afternoon of toil and trouble.
Cornflakes for lunch, fry-ups for tea, cuppas during the drinks interval. Anything to get his players thinking that it's still morning.
On Thursday the tail-enders had laid merry waste to a flagging Australian attack, only for Simon Katich and Ricky Ponting to grind England into the Cardiff dirt once the luncheon dishes had been cleared away.
On Friday those same tail-enders, this time in their normal guise as England's bowling attack, sent Katich and Ponting packing and got rid of Mike Hussey for good measure too.
Australia, ominously poised overnight, were suddenly 348-4 going into the afternoon session, still almost 100 runs adrift, with two new batsmen at the crease and one of them, Marcus North, batting with all the class and confidence of Frank Spencer.
Around the concourses at lunchtime, there was a solid expectation that more was to follow. James Anderson had bowled his best spell of the match - two wickets for two runs in 15 balls - Monty had just bowled a well-set Punter and Andrew Flintoff was smacking bouncers onto heads and chests.
It never happened. Instead, we had an action replay of Thursday's accumulation and attrition - another right-hand/left-hand pairing, the former easy on the eye, the other ticking off the total - with all the inspiration England had shown earlier evaporating like the steam coming from Strauss's ears.
By the time the partnership between Michael Clarke and Marcus North was broken, late in the day and with the stands almost deserted after a soggy two-hour hiatus, it had yielded 143 runs. England were never taken apart, but neither did they often look like breaking through.
Graeme Swann, after that fantastic start to the year, seems to be having his worst match for his country at a time when he would wanted to have produced his best. Length was a problem. There was either too much of it or too little of it. Of the spin there was only the latter.
For Stuart Broad the match has been even more testing. Swann could at least console himself with his economical return. Broad, save for an early lifter in his first over of the day, failed to find any bounce or menace until he returned at the death to surprise Clarke with a mixed-seam bouncer.
That he pulled a wicket out of the bag spoke volumes for his determination. That it took him until the 136th over of the Australian innings speaks as loudly of his struggles.
Strauss's decision to open after lunch with Broad from one end and Monty from the other puzzled everyone in the ground. Flintoff had tenderised successive batsmen before the break, but he wasn't thrown the ball until Clarke and North had settled and prospered.
Perhaps his skipper is cautious of overusing him so soon after his comeback. That's excusable. So why then did he often send Flintoff out to field in the deep, where his exertions would be far greater than in the close catching slots?
There may be good reasons why Anderson was held back too. He was off the pitch for the first part of the afternoon, although he returned later with no obvious problems. By then all the pressure on Australia had dissipated. That England's most dangerous deliveries of the entire afternoon came from Paul Collingwood indicates how little threat the front-line attack carried.
In the absence of any real danger, Clarke gave a timely reminder that he has now matured into the Test batsman everyone thought he would when he first wore the baggy green.
After the last tour to England the precocious Pup found himself dropped from the side, his tendency to go hard outside off and a weakness against swing threatening to disrupt his smooth progress through the Aussie ranks.
It took a hamstring injury to the perma-crocked Shane Watson to get him back into the team, but since that recall he has made as much of his chance as the 'Carpe Diem' tattooed on his arm would lead you to expect.
Gone now is the surfer's bleached hair of his debut, replaced by a more austere buzz-cut, a physical reflection of the way he's preparing to succeed Ponting as skipper when the time comes.
In the last Ashes down under he hit 389 runs at an average of 77, his technique sounder and his shot selection more cautious than in his first incarnation. On Friday it was his twinkle-toed dancing footwork that impressed.
Clarke has always played spin beautifully, from his spectacular debut in India almost five years ago onwards, but the speed of his adjustments against the quicks made it appear that they were bowling in slow motion.
When Broad had him caught behind, the first Test wicket under floodlights in England cricket history, it came as a surprise both to the batsman and the thousands of spectators who were streaming back into the city centre after the long rain delay.
With two days left and a lead of 44 runs, Australia remain in the driving seat. North will resume on an unfussy 54 not out with five batsmen to accompany him.
If heavy rain were not forecast for most of Saturday, the odds would now favour an Aussie victory. Even as it is, England still have work to do if they are to go to Lord's next week at parity with their flinty opponents.