Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ponting hits back at 'hypocrite' Fletcher

has labelled Duncan Fletcher a "hypocrite" after the former England coach's comments that Australia had no right to claim the moral high ground on Spirit of Cricket issues. While Ponting maintained he had not complained excessively about the hosts' "ordinary" time-wasting late on the final day in the drawn Cardiff Test, Andy Flower, the current England mentor, said the captain "made a meal" of the incident.

As England's last two batsmen held on they sent on the 12th man Bilal Shafayat and the physiotherapist Steve McCaig to prevent the visitors from delivering more overs. "[Fletcher] is sort of saying he didn't condone what they did the other day," Ponting said. "It seemed a little bit hypocritical, some of the stuff he had to say."

Fletcher wrote in the Guardian about Ponting putting pressure on the umpires at Sophia Gardens and their sledging. "If any side in the world doesn't play within the spirit of the game it's Ponting's Australians, yet here he is sitting in judgment on England because he's frustrated that his bowlers failed to complete the job," he said. "Ponting getting frustrated - does that remind you of anything?"

Ponting yelled at Fletcher on his way to the dressing room after he was run-out by Gary Pratt, the substitute fielder, at Trent Bridge in 2005. "We are good mates, Duncan and I," Ponting said wryly at Lord's. "I'm not one little bit worried at all about what Duncan has had to say. He is an irrelevant person in my world and probably in the cricketing world right at the moment."

The chapter adds more tension before Thursday's second Test at Lord's, but don't expect any reduction in the number or intensity of exchanges between players. On the final day in Cardiff Kevin Pietersen and Mitchell Johnson argued during the warm-ups and Stuart Broad and Peter Siddle bumped shoulders in the middle before the emotional finish. Siddle also hit Graeme Swann with a series of painful short balls, but Swann responded with an incredibly valuable 31.

"It is not an Ashes series without a few of those [incidents]," England's captain Andrew Strauss said. "As pressure builds, that strains people and once they are put under pressure they react in a number of different ways. One thing which I think is important is that the series continues to be played in a good manner and I certainly think on those first five days, it was played in that manner."

The Australians are often accused of pushing - or breaking - the rules but maintain they adhere to the over-riding Spirit of Cricket and their own stricter code. Steve Waugh has been at Lord's this week and felt neither team was particularly out of order in Cardiff.

Ponting is Waugh's successor and has no problems with the conduct of his team. "I don't think I have ever been pulled up for anything outside of playing within the spirit of the game," Ponting said. "We have always had the finger pointed at us about that sort of stuff. But we never seem to get in too much trouble from the authorities about the spirit of the game."

He said the fall-out from the time wasting had been "overcooked". "There is so much hype around the series that little things like that can turn into really big things," he said. "The entire game, I felt, was played in terrific spirit, it was on for young and old out on the field as we saw with the Siddle and Swann battle. But otherwise it was a great Test match."

In 2005 the Australians were considered too friendly with their opponents and fell to a 2-1 series loss. Strauss said the circumstances and personnel for this contest were different and the dynamic from previous battles had changed. "Players do what feels natural to them," he said.

Focus required amid distractions

The Big Picture

The series resumes after a nail-biting final hour in Cardiff in which England clung to the mightiest of draws after being dominated for most of the match. Since then time wasting and Andrew Flintoff's retirement have become the big issues, but the teams will not be focussing on the pre-match hype when the first ball is delivered.

They will be more intent on a brisk start and continuing their on-field battles in a contest that has already provided more heat than the St John's Wood tube station in summer. Australia enter the match disappointed they are not leading 1-0, while England are buoyant to be level. The visiting batsmen fired at Sophia Gardens, roaring to 674 for 6 before declaring, and their bowlers fell one wicket short of victory. The bowlers on both sides will be more excited by the conditions on offer in this game.

Nothing gets an Australian's neck prickling like the sight of Lord's and the players' baggy greens gain extra power whenever they bob through the Long Room. England's leaders can't understand why their team hasn't beaten their Ashes rivals in 75 years here. Another chapter will be added to the dusty pages of history this week.

Form guide

(last five matches, most recent first)

England - DWWDD
Australia - DLWWW

Watch out for ...

Lord's is a place for the captains to star. Andrew Strauss missed out twice in the first Test, scoring 30 and 17, and needs to inspire his batting team-mates after they all gave away reasonable starts last week. The home of cricket is also Strauss's county ground for Middlesex, so he knows everything about the revered address. He has not scored a century here since 2006, but has reached triple figures three times on the way to averaging 58.17 in 11 matches.

Ricky Ponting, who has made 27 runs in three Test innings at Lord's, must stand up if his side is to maintain its intimidating batting intensity. In Cardiff Ponting breezed to 150, becoming one of four Australian century-makers, but the second Test will be played in different conditions and against a team that now remembers the last hour of batting, not the 181 overs of bowling.

Team news

Strauss wants to go with five bowlers - Ian Bell has been released from the squad - but his biggest worry is Flintoff's injured knee. Flintoff is bowing out of Tests at the end of the series and will be desperate to play while Steve Harmison is acting as his cover. Graham Onions was in the squad in Cardiff but didn't get a game, increasing his chances of appearing at Lord's, where two spinners are not a viable option.

England (possible) 1 Andrew Strauss (capt), 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Ravi Bopara, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Paul Collingwood, 6 Matt Prior (wk), 7 Andrew Flintoff, 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 James Anderson, 11 Graham Onions.

Stuart Clark will be talked about but don't expect any changes to Australia's XI. Ponting should confirm the side later on Wednesday and it would be a shock if any of the players who pushed England last week are omitted. Brett Lee remains out with a stomach problem.

Australia (probable) 1 Simon Katich, 2 Phillip Hughes, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Hussey, 5 Michael Clarke, 6 Marcus North, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Nathan Hauritz, 10 Peter Siddle, 11 Ben Hilfenhaus.

Pitch and conditions

Draws have been common recently at Lord's, but all the bowlers will feel this pitch is a raging seamer compared to the block of cement offered in Cardiff. There was an attractive green tinge on the surface on Tuesday and even though the grass was cut shorter on Wednesday, there is sure to be some life in it for the fast men. The same strip was used in 2005, although nobody is expecting a repeat of the 17 wickets that dropped on the opening day. The forecast is for sunny intervals on Thursday, rain on Friday and some showers over the weekend.

Stats and trivia

  • Australia have lost only one Test at Lord's, in 1934, since the 1896 tour

  • In 33 matches at headquarters Australia have won 14, drawn 14, and lost five

  • England have been successful in 43 of 116 Tests at the ground, but have drawn six of their past seven encounters

  • Don Bradman's 254 in 1930 is the highest score at Lord's in an Ashes contest, ahead of Wally Hammond's 240 eight years later

  • Hedley Verity's 15 wickets in 1934 are the best here by an Englishman in an Ashes game. Bob Massie's 16 for 137 in 1972 leads the overall list

  • Ponting needs 65 runs to overtake Allan Border's Australian record of 11,174 Test runs


"If you have gone for 670 runs and taken only six wickets then it is probably not a great option to reduce your bowling attack. We are pretty happy with the five bowlers."
Andrew Strauss

"I've got to start from scratch again, like we all have to do, after we didn't quite get the result we were after last week. It's up to me to lead the way with the bat."
Ricky Ponting

Flintoff to retire from Test cricket

has announced that he will retire from Test cricket at the end of this Ashes summer, although he still intends to make himself available for Twenty20 and ODI cricket, and is expected to be fit for tomorrow's second Test against Australia.

Flintoff, who has missed 25 of England's last 48 Tests through a variety of injuries, suffered another fitness scare on the eve of the Lord's Test, when he reported soreness and swelling in the same right knee that required surgery back in April, after he tore his meniscus while playing in the IPL.

"It's not something I have just thought of overnight, it's something that's been on my mind for a while regarding this series," said Flintoff. "With the knee flaring up again and getting the injections on Monday, now is a time I felt comfortable with doing it. There's been a lot of speculation over my future for the past few weeks, so I wanted to get it out there, and concentrate on playing cricket.

"I've had four ankle operations and knee surgery, so my body is telling me things, and I'm actually starting to listen. I can't just play games here and there while waiting to be fit. For my own sanity, and for my family's, I've got to draw a line under it. I've been going through two years of rehab in the past four, which is not ideal."

Prior to England's practice session on Wednesday morning, Flintoff gave the team talk in a sombre atmosphere, and afterwards Paul Collingwood immediately came up and shook him by the hand. "Freddie simply said that these four Tests would be his last in Test cricket," a team insider told Cricinfo. Andrew Strauss, the England captain, said the team were saddened, though not surprised, about Flintoff's decision to stand down from Test cricket.

"As players we've had a feeling this would come sooner rather than later," Strauss said. "We feel sad he's had to make this decision at his age, but we're sure it will motivate him even more for this series."

The knee injury that has threatened his participation at Lord's followed a spirited performance in the first Test at Cardiff, in which Flintoff bowled 35 overs but was once again under-rewarded with figures of 1 for 128. Strauss was optimistic on Wednesday that Flintoff will come through a fitness test and make himself available for selection, and he was seen skipping during England's warm-up in the indoor nets, before padding up for batting practice, then sending down a few pacey overs on the outdoor nets.

"The indications are that he's going to be fine," Strauss said. "He had a good bowl today, we just need to see how he reacts to what he did today before we can be 100% sure. At this stage we are hopeful but we can't be sure.

Top Curve
A decade of frustration

  • 1999 Returns early from South Africa with broken foot.
  • 2000 Back injury ends Pakistan tour.
  • 2002 Delays a hernia operation to try and complete India Test series but still misses final Test. Later returns from Ashes tour with groin problem.
  • 2003 Plays in the World up, but misses Zimbabwe Tests back in England with shoulder injury after being hit in the nets by Sajid Mahmood.
  • 2003 Ruled out of the two-Test series in Bangladesh, but returns for the one-dayers.
  • 2005 Returns from South Africa in January and misses one-day series to have ankle surgery. Is fit in time for the home season including the Ashes.
  • 2006 After captaining England against Sri Lanka in Test series he is out for 12 weeks after ankle surgery and misses rest of the summer. Returns in Champions Trophy as a batsman and leads England in the Ashes.
  • 2007 More surgery to his left ankle after the World Cup and misses most of the home season before returning for the one-day series against India. However, he can't play all seven games due to a recurrence of the problem.
  • 2007 Takes part in the ICC World Twenty20 but barely limps through it. Following the tournament he goes under the knife again and misses rest of the winter.
  • 2008 Was set to return against New Zealand in the home series but strains his side playing for Lancashire. Comeback delayed until second Test against South Africa at Headingley.
  • 2009 Returns from West Indies after the third Test with a hip injury but rejoins the tour for the one-day series.
  • 2009 Returns from South Africa after his IPL stint with Chennai Superkings was cut short by a torn meniscus in his right knee. Subsequently misses the World Twenty20.
  • 2009 Injury scare following the first Ashes Test in Cardiff after Flintoff has soreness and swelling in the knee.
Bottom Curve

"When you go in with three seamers, you've got to expect all three to bowl a lot of overs. Fred understands that, but this week in all likelihood there will be four seamers and maybe [they] won't have quite as big a workload. We'd never play any bowler in a Test match who we didn't think could contribute as fully as anyone else."

Though he acknowledged that Flintoff's overall statistics do not bear greatness, Strauss lauded Flintoff's effect on the modern game.

"He's had a dramatic impact in English cricket over the past few years, in the style with which he's batted, and for a long period he's been one of the bowlers in world cricket that batters least like facing, although the figures maybe don't show that," Strauss said. "And also as a personality, he's done a huge amount for cricket in the way he's played with a smile on his face. Test cricket will miss him, there's no doubt about that. I'm sure he'll go out in a style that befits his quality, with a bang, with big performances, and with some stories to tell at the end."

Regardless of his immense stature in the England dressing-room, the statistics of Flintoff's recent form and impact on the Test side are not flattering. Since the 2005 Ashes, he has averaged 28.25 with the bat and 34.68 with the ball in 23 Tests (both figures down on his overall Test record of 31.69 and 32.51), and he has not managed a century or five wickets in an innings in any series since then.

Moreover, he has been unable to impose himself on matches in the same way that he did in his 2005 pomp. Although some leeway has to be made for the quality of the opponents he has faced - Flintoff has often been recuperating during low-key series in preparation for the marquee events - the statistics paint a sorry tale. In the 25 matches that Flintoff has missed since 2005, England have won 12, drawn 10 and lost on only three occasions. In the 23 matches in which he has been present, those numbers are almost exactly reversed - won 3, drawn 7, lost 13.

"Being part of an Ashes-winning team was very special, and so was beating everyone in the world for a period of time, and playing a major part in that," said Flintoff. "I'd have liked my career to kick on after that, but being a professional rehabber for two years makes it pretty difficult to do that. It would have been nice if it had carried on a bit longer, but I've no regrets. I'm happy."

Flintoff received a cortisone injection on Monday, and is sure to play through the pain if he has to. "For the next four Test matches I'll do everything I need to do to get on a cricket field and I'm desperate to make my mark," he said. "I want to finish playing for England on a high and if you look at the fixtures going forward, the way my body is suggests I won't be able to get through that."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Kulasekara and Herath set up series win

Sri Lanka 240 (Sangakkara 87, Gul 4-43, Ajmal 4-87) and 171 for 3 (Warnapura 54) beat Pakistan 90 (Kulasekara 4-21) and 320 (Fawad 168, Younis 82, Herath 5-99, Kulasekara 4-37) by seven wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
How they were out

A match in which fortunes swung wildly finally ended in an emphatic seven-wicket win for Sri Lanka, as they sealed their first home series win against Pakistan with a convincing performance at the P Sara Oval. Pakistan were left to rue another batting collapse of monumental proportions, one in which they lost nine wickets for 35 to go from a commanding 285 for 1 to 320 all out. That left Sri Lanka with a target of just 171, which they knocked off in a mere 32 overs to ensure a three-day result.

That had seemed a remote possibility when play started this morning, and seemed even less likely when Fawad Alam and Younis Khan were motoring along during their 200-run second-wicket partnership in the morning. Pakistan had wiped off the 150-run deficit with aplomb, and were building a substantial lead of their own; the pitch was flat, offering little assistance for pace or spin, and the Sri Lankans appeared completely deflated. Sri Lanka got a very small glimmer when Younis gifted his wicket away, attempting a reverse sweep against the part-time offspin of Tharanga Paranavitana with the second new ball just two overs away, and from there it went horribly wrong for Pakistan.

Surprisingly, it was Rangana Herath who took the new ball, and equally surprisingly, he struck immediately, removing Mohammad Yousuf with his second ball. That triggered a spectacular collapse, as seven more wickets fell in the next 92 deliveries. Pakistan had recovered brilliantly from their first-innings debacle, but there was no escape route this time around.

Nuwan Kulasekara had struggled for seam and swing in the first 80 overs, but armed with the new ball in overcast conditions, he suddenly found exaggerated inswing, trapping four batsmen lbw. Misbah-ul-Haq, Kamran Akmal, Abdur Rauf and Saeed Ajmal all got their front foot too far across, though Misbah was unlucky as the ball seemed to be missing leg stump.

Herath, meanwhile, was as effective with the straighter one as he was with the one which turned. The lack of turn accounted for Yousuf, Shoaib Malik and Umar Gul, while turn and bounce ended Fawad's outstanding innings of 168, the second-highest by a Pakistan debutant. His four wickets with the new ball gave him figures of 5 for 99, his first five-for in Tests, and a series which had already seen several twists had another monumental, and decisive, one.

At lunch, though, no one could have seen the end coming, as Fawad and Younis reduced Sri Lanka's bowlers and fielders to a completely dispirited lot, adding 116 in 28 overs for the loss of just one wicket. More than the runs themselves, it was the ease with which Fawad and Younis batted that would have worried Kumar Sangakkara. Fawad, especially, showed excellent concentration, knocking the ball in the gaps, driving fluently through the covers, and cutting and pulling whenever the bowlers pitched it marginally short.

Sangakkara's tactics were perplexing - the second over of the day was bowled by Paranavitana - and when he did turn to his main bowlers, the results weren't much better. Ajantha Mendis had a shocker, either dragging the balls too short or serving half-volleys, and leaked 38 in six overs, including five fours.

As the runs piled up, so did the records: Fawad became only the fourth Pakistan batsman to score 150 on debut, while the partnership was the highest for the second wicket at this ground, and for Pakistan against Sri Lanka in Tests.

It was all going exactly as Pakistan would have wanted it to, till Sangakkara gave the second new ball to Herath. The collapse that followed seemed to completely take the fight out of Pakistan, for when they took the field to defend 170, they were flat and uninspired. Gul and Mohammad Aamer bowled on both sides of the wicket and got none of the movement that Kulasekara had managed earlier in the afternoon. The aggressive Malinda Warnapura cashed in, getting a flurry of boundaries with pulls and flicks to ensure that Sri Lanka never felt the pressure of chasing an uncomfortable target against an attack known to trigger collapses.

The opening partnership added 60 in a mere ten overs, and even when that pair was separated, with Paranavitana playing a careless sweep, Pakistan were never in the contest as Sangakkara carried on from where he had left off in the first innings. Younis brought back Gul for a late spell, hoping for some reverse swing and inspiration, but Gul managed neither. A lofted six by Sangakkara off Malik brought down the target to just 11, but he wasn't in the middle to celebrate his first series win as captain, falling off the next delivery. With Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera around, though, that hardly mattered.

Spinners seal historic Bangladesh win

Bangladesh 238 (Mortaza 39, Roach 3-46) and 345 (Tamim 128, Sammy 5-70) beat West Indies 307 (Phillips 94, Bernard 53, Mahmudullah 3-59) and 181 (Bernard 52, Mahmudullah 5-51, Shakib 3-39) by 95 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
How they were out

Four years and six months after their first Test win, Bangladesh sealed a historic second victory when they beat West Indies by 95 runs in St Vincent. Bangladesh's spin twins Shakib Al Hasan and Mahmudullah weaved a tantalising web to consign a weakened West Indies to defeat. The only resistance came from David Bernard, who defied everything thrown at him for 134 balls to remain unbeaten on 52.

The champagne moment arrived at 4.40 pm local time when Shakib, the stand-in captain, nailed last man Tino Best in front with a dipping full toss with only ten overs left in the day. Best put up his bat as if to suggest he had edged it but the finger was up and the Bangladeshi fielders converged in a huddle of joy, soon joined by a limping Mashrafe Mortaza.

It was an enthralling last couple of sessions in a beautiful setting, the Kingstown stadium ringed by the sea. The cricket was almost sub-continental in its elements. Spinners operated with several close-in men prowling near the batsmen waiting for a mistake, and an over-excited chirpy wicketkeeper, Mushfiqur Rahim, applying immense pressure on the batsmen and the umpires with his appeals exclamations. And when the seamers came on, it wasn't seam but reverse swing on view with the slinging Rubel Hossain and the grunting Shahadat Hossain trying their best to break through.

The plot thickened in the last session, as Bernard found a willing partner in Nikita Miller, suggesting a replay of Cardiff, where England pulled off a great escape on Sunday. But Mohammad Ashraful, who failed in both innings with the bat, stamped his presence on the game by removing Miller, who'd stayed on his back foot to defend stoutly for 54 balls, with one that straightened to get the edge. Mahmudullah returned to trap Ryan Austin and take out Kemar Roach before Shakib sealed the finish.

Until then, Bernard had proved to be a huge headache to the visitors, standing solidly between them and history. His CV describes him as a stylish batsman but today he added grit to the existing grace. Despite the tremendous pressure, he managed to bat with some elegance, using his wrists to ride the turn and bounce on the final-day wicket. While the rest pushed hard at the ball, he played with soft hands and defended confidently.

The contest with Shakib was top-notch, with the bowler shifting angles and trying everything in his arsenal - left-arm breaks, straighter one, arm-ball, round-arm delivery, over and round-the-wicket - to beat a batsman batting in the zone. He moved forward or back, as the length demanded of him, using his wrists to drop the ball down short of the fielders. When the spin noose tightened, he had the courage to play the pressure-relieving strokes like the lofted drives and the cuts. He survived a close lbw shout in the 44th over against Shakib when a ball straightened to hit the pad in front of the stumps but, that blemish apart, he was pretty solid.

However, Shakib and Mahmudullah ensured no other batsmen would deny them a slice of history. Shakib, hailed by the former Australian spinner Kerry O' Keefe as the "best finger spinner in the world", turned in a suffocating spell of left-arm spin to relentlessly force the pressure on West Indies. Shakib was slightly slow through the air in the first innings and couldn't pose too many problems on a slow track. Today, though, he ripped it slightly quicker and immediately looked threatening. He varied his pace, even his angle, by lowering the arm on occasion and, unsurprisingly, was the better of the two spinners, despite finishing with fewer wickets. He occasionally got the ball to straighten and slipped in a few with the arm.

In his first over Shakib harassed Omar Phillips before going past an attempted sweep to trap the batsman. Later, after Darren Sammy and Bernard had added 37 in 11.3 overs, he struck, removing Sammy with a little bit of help from the batsman. Suddenly, against the run of play and just before tea, Sammy jumped out and sliced an ambitious square drive straight to point.

Even when he was not taking wickets, Shakib kept the pressure on and by keeping the batsmen on a leash, allowed Mahmudullah the space to wreak some damage. At one point in the chase the keeper Rahim shouted out to Mahmudullah: "Just keep hitting the right areas; the pitch will take care of the rest". Mahmudullah did exactly that to pick up three quick wickets after lunch before he returned to take another two in the last session. He increased the pressure with his accuracy and made the batsmen play at every ball. It paid off - and how.

Floyd Reifer, who was tormented by Shakib, showed himself to be a prime lbw candidate. Time and again, that front leg was pressed dangerously across but he managed to stab and jab his way out against Shakib. But Mahmudullah finally broke through with one that landed and straightened to strike that front leg. His next victim was Travis Dowlin, inducing a nervous prod straight to short-leg. Chadwick Walton walked in and started off with a second-ball six but was done in by one that kept low from Mahmudullah and was struck in front of the leg stump.

The slide had started with a moment of madness from the opener Dale Richards who added 20 runs in two overs before he had a brain freeze. He ambled out of the crease after being hit on the pad by Shahadat Hossain, all the while looking anxiously at the umpire for the verdict on the lbw appeal, which went in his favour, but was run out by a direct hit. That allowed Bangladesh the opening and they stormed through.

When the day started, it looked as if Bangladesh were dawdling with the bat and not showing enough urgency to either go for quick runs or leave many overs as possible to bowl out West Indies. However, Darren Sammy took a five-for to bowl them out and that proved a blessing in hindsight as it allowed their spinners enough time to bowl them to a euphoric triumph.

Harmison covers injured Flintoff

Top Curve
A decade of frustration

  • 1999 Returns early from South Africa with broken foot.
  • 2000 Back injury ends Pakistan tour.
  • 2002 Delays a hernia operation to try and complete India Test series but still misses final Test. Later returns from Ashes tour with groin problem.
  • 2003 Plays in the World up, but misses Zimbabwe Tests back in England with shoulder injury after being hit in the nets by Sajid Mahmood.
  • 2003 Ruled out of the two-Test series in Bangladesh, but returns for the one-dayers.
  • 2005 Returns from South Africa in January and misses one-day series to have ankle surgery. Is fit in time for the home season including the Ashes.
  • 2006 After captaining England against Sri Lanka in Test series he is out for 12 weeks after ankle surgery and misses rest of the summer. Returns in Champions Trophy as a batsman and leads England in the Ashes.
  • 2007 More surgery to his left ankle after the World Cup and misses most of the home season before returning for the one-day series against India. However, he can't play all seven games due to a recurrence of the problem.
  • 2007 Takes part in the ICC World Twenty20 but barely limps through it. Following the tournament he goes under the knife again and misses rest of the winter.
  • 2008 Was set to return against New Zealand in the home series but strains his side playing for Lancashire. Comeback delayed until second Test against South Africa at Headingley.
  • 2009 Returns from West Indies after the third Test with a hip injury but rejoins the tour for the one-day series.
  • 2009 Returns from South Africa after his IPL stint with Chennai Superkings was cut short by a torn meniscus in his right knee. Subsequently misses the World Twenty20.
  • 2009 Injury scare following the first Ashes Test in Cardiff after Flintoff has soreness and swelling in the knee.
Bottom Curve

A knee injury to Andrew Flintoff has prompted England selectors to call the in-form Steve Harmison into an expanded 14-man squad for the second Ashes Test at Lord's. Flintoff complained of right knee soreness and swelling after twisting awkwardly in the field during Australia's first innings, and will undergo scans on Monday. He is in serious doubt to play at Lord's from Thursday.

News of Flintoff's latest injury will come as a major blow to England, who had hoped their marquee all-rounder would repeat his man-of-the-series exploits from the 2005 Ashes series. He began with a flourish in Cardiff, troubling the Australian batsmen with pace and bounce, but his contributions tapered as the match progressed. He finished with figures of 1-128 from 35 overs, and scored of 37 and 26.

The Cardiff Test was Flintoff's first major assignment since tearing the meniscus in his right knee during an IPL stint with the Chennai Superkings. He had not represented England since the Antigua Test in February, after which he damaged his hip, and is no guarantee to play at .Lord's or Edgbaston against the Australians.

"It's just a bit of a reaction to one of the old knee injuries," said Geoff Miller, England's chairman of selectors. "I don't think it's too bad from what we can make out. It's not disastrous, but we've just got to be very wary of it, just monitor it. We've obviously gone for a selection to cover that. Andrew knows himself how painful it is or whether he will be able to compete. It's a long series. We've got four more games to play, so we've got to take that into consideration.

"In the event of Andrew being unfit, we see Stephen as a like for like replacement in terms of the type of bowler he is and his ability to unsettle the opposition batsmen with pace and bounce. But we will need to consider all our options carefully when we come to determine the make-up of our bowling attack at Lord's and the final decision will depend on our assessment of the pitch and the likely overhead conditions. "

Harmison has taken 33 wickets at 13.03 in five first class matches since June, including six against the Australians in the recent England Lions tour match in Worcester. His dismissals of Phillip Hughes to short, rising deliveries was replicated by Flintoff in Cardiff, who removed the Australian opener after a succession of bouncers.

Should his first-class form hold, Harmison would imbue England with a degree of menace that was lacking in the first Test, during which the hosts managed just six Australian wickets in 181 overs. Harmison, too, will hold fond memories of his last Ashes Test at Lord's, taking 8-97 and striking Ricky Ponting a fearsome blow to the face.

Even if Flintoff is ruled fit, Harmison will still push for a place in the starting XI if, as is expected, England opt against playing two spinners at Lord's. Harmison and his Durham teammate, Graham Onions, could find themselves in a duel for the right to replace Monty Panesar, who lacked penetration on a slow, turning Sophia Gardens surface.

"In the bowling department, Steve's been bowling really well for Durham and he bowled really well in the Lions game, so he comes into give us that option if necessary," Miller said. "We've just watched him perform. We know what his capabilities are, we know how good an international bowler is and he's bowling well at the moment, so consequently he takes that place as cover."

Miller was less than complimentary of England's performance in Cardiff, and implored the team to lift ahead of the crucial Lord's Test. "I would think the feeling in the squad is terrific releif, but we know full well we underplayed, we didn't play to our potential, and that's got to be rectified," he said. "But there's relief that we could show some steel and some backbone and fight through the last day and end up with a draw so we go to Lord's 0-0. It's not rocket science for everybody to see that we came second best, but managed to get a draw out of it. We move on."

Monday, July 13, 2009

England pull off great escape

England 435 (Pietersen 69, Collingwood 64, Prior 56) and 252 for 9 (Collingwood 74, Hilfenhaus 3-37) drew with Australia 674 for 6 dec (Ponting 150, Katich 122, North 125*, Haddin 121, Clarke 81)
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Monty Panesar and James Anderson steal a run during the most tense of evenings, England v Australia, 1st Test, Cardiff, 5th day, July 12, 2009
James Anderson and Monty Panesar steal a single to guide England to safety at Cardiff © AFP

James Anderson and Monty Panesar produced the most important innings of their lives as England's final pair survived 11.3 overs to pull off a thrilling escape at Cardiff. When Paul Collingwood fell for a monumental 245-ball 74 England still trailed by six, but once Australia had to bat again, valuable time was taken out of the game leaving Andrew Strauss and a packed Cardiff nervously clock-watching. The Australians threw everything into the final hour in an electric atmosphere with the crowd cheering the two unlikely batting heroes as though the Ashes had been won.

A vital moment came when Anderson collected consecutive boundaries off Peter Siddle to finally erase the deficit. It meant that two further overs would be lost from the remaining allocation, but there was yet another twist. Australia had bowled their overs quickly during the final hour, which meant it came down to a clock-watch situation for the batsmen. The crucial mark was 6.40pm: at that point it meant there was no time for Australia to start a run chase.

The closing overs were in the hands of Nathan Hauritz - who rose above all the pre-match concern over his quality to claim three final-day wickets and six in the match - and Marcus North. Anderson, outwardly calm while inside he must have been churning, blocked confidently but also picked up vital runs to just edge the lead ahead further. Meanwhile, Panesar, the most unlikely of batting saviours, watched the ball like a hawk. Having left expertly against the quicks he played with soft hands against the spinners, and one of the biggest cheers of the day came when he square cut North for a boundary.

However, while Anderson and Panesar were there at the end to soak up the acclaim the escape wouldn't have been possible without one of Collingwood's most determined innings for his country. He came in early after Kevin Pietersen lost his off stump, shouldering arms to Ben Hilfenhaus, and soon faced an England card that read 70 for 5. He found vital support from Andrew Flintoff, Stuart Broad and particularly Graeme Swann, who overcame a peppering from Siddle, to share a 20-over stand.

Collingwood fought with very ounce of the grit that makes him such a valuable player. He survived some early scares against Hauritz when an inside edge fell just short of Simon Katich at short leg and another delivery almost rolled back onto the stumps until Collingwood stepped on it. He went 31 deliveries after lunch without scoring, but unlike some of England's other batsman he isn't someone who gets overly twitchy when his own score his moving along.

Collingwood's fifty came off 167 balls, the slowest by an England batsman since Nasser Hussain against West Indies in Port of Spain during the 2004 tour, but the pace of his innings mattered not a jot. His only mistake proved his downfall as he chased some width from Siddle and Mike Hussey took a juggling catch in the gully. He could hardly believe what he had done and couldn't even bring himself to remove his pads as he watched the two tailenders defy Australia. Collingwood isn't a superstar; he doesn't fit into the hero mould, but here he was both.

Ponting admitted it was a tough result to take and Australia were ahead of the game virtually throughout the final day. Pietersen, who had an early-morning confrontation with Mitchell Johnson during the warm-ups, never settled against the swinging ball as the quicks probed away on the full length that causes him problems. His troubles ended when he completely misjudged the line from Hilfenhaus and didn't offer a shot. It was excellent bowling from Hilfenhaus, who had been shaping the ball away and made one hold its line, but Pietersen's back lift and footwork are currently not in sync.

A wide-angle shot of Nathan Hauritz dismissing Matt Prior, England v Australia, 1st Test, Cardiff, 5th day, July 12, 2009
Matt Prior chose a forgettable shot to fall to Nathan Hauritz © Getty Images

In the eighth over of the session it was time for Hauritz and he was in the wonderful position of being able to bowl with men around the bat. He immediately found more turn, and posed a greater threat than England's spinner managed over two days, and made one bounce a touch more against Andrew Strauss as he tried to cut.

While the England captain can perhaps be partly excused his shot as the cut is a legitimate option against the offspinner, the same can't be said for Matt Prior. He had already flirted with danger by dabbing Hauritz through short third man and had also been beaten twice outside off stump by clever changes of pace and flight. Trying to go through the off side again he was undone by extra bounce and gloved a chance to slip.

Flintoff fought against his natural inclination to attack, playing watchfully against Hauritz as he accompanied Collingwood for 23 overs. The out-of-sorts Johnson, who was later horribly wayward with the second new ball, broke through when Flintoff pushed at one going across him and before tea Broad had also gone, trapped leg before playing back at Hauritz.

For Hauritz it appeared he would provide the ultimate response to his critics by securing a Test victory until he tired slightly in the tension-filled closing stages. Collingwood and Swann took a large chunk out of the evening session, with Swann completing an impressive match with the bat. Shortly before tea he was given a peppering from Siddle who sent down a violent over that struck three painful blows - two on the glove and one on the elbow - which required the physio to come out twice in three deliveries.

His runs were also crucial as England ate away into Australia's lead before he went for a pull against the impressive Hilfenhaus and was palpably leg before. Collingwood now had just two bowlers for company and when he departed an Australian victory looked assured. England, though, dug deep, deeper perhaps than many thought Anderson and Panesar could.

However, despite the scoreline still reading nil-nil the reality is that England were a distance second-best for much of the match. Australia have shown that, despite the loss of many greats, they are a unit of huge desire who will take some beating. At least this time, though, it won't be a whitewash.

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