In the build up to the first Ashes Test in Cardiff,
all the talk was that the venue would suit England. With Australia's insatiable desire for runs showing
no signs of abating at 479-5 after the third day's play, Britain's
wettest cricket ground could come to Andrew Strauss's rescue.
Despite Stuart Broad taking the key wicket of Michael Clarke for 83 before umpire Aleem Dar felt a drop of rain on his nose and took the players off, he and Marcus North (pictured, left) shone as the floodlights made a fleeting and historic cameo.
England's bowlers were blunted on Day Two, and 'Sack the
cherry-picker' was the cry after England selected a ball so dead that Andrew
Flintoff almost stuck it in a gear-stripped coffin and buried it in the River
James Anderson was allegedly the man who walked proudly out
of the umpires' room with the gleaming new cherry in his hand, but looked
sheepish after the ball reacted like a sullen teenager.
After a slightly nauseating warble of an attempted Jerusalem rendition, England
plucked a new ball from umpire Billy Doctrove's magic box just nine overs into
the day's play, and there was an audible sigh of relief.
The mints, fruit pastilles and wine gums were all out in
force as Paul Collingwood's pockets bulged with sweets after being appointed the
unofficial ball-shiner, but with none of the pomp and ceremony it perhaps deserved.
Doctrove had obstinately refused to give any lbw decisions
all match, adopting the 'fractionally missing middle stump' approach, but
he finally ran out of excuses when Anderson
trapped Simon Katich plum in front for 122.
Flintoff welcomed Mike Hussey to the crease with a crack on the helmet
and a piercing glare as the Cardiff
crowd sensed that a middle-order collapse was imminent. It wasn't.
Hussey departed for just three, before even his sun block had time to dry,
with Anderson extracting the edge of his sticker-emblazoned plank.
Monty Panesar, sensing that getting a decision from Doctrove would
involve providing hardback evidence in the form of a Wisden almanack,
eventually resorted to clean bowling Ricky Ponting for 150.
Australia's top eight batsmen all have Test match tons to their name, and as England
celebrated the eventual demise of Ponting and Katich's hefty partnership, two further run machines were unleashed from Tim Neilsen's proverbial locker.
The onus was then on vice-captain Michael Clarke to help his
side kick on, and the man they affectionately call 'Nemo', or 'Pup', showed his
gritty side in the manner of old Bill 'Corpse with pads on' Lawry.
It was a surreal atmosphere which greeted the players after
lunch, with large areas of the stands at Cardiff
left empty as the corporate diners embarked on their second dessert, and the
intensity of the cricket reflected it.
fielders looked as though they had been shot with a tranquiliser gun, drifting
around the outfield with distant looks, perhaps contemplating the barbecue at
Simon Jones's flat later on.
Stuart Broad's spell during the afternoon session was an
exercise in self-control, with the ball carrying through as if a
parachute were attached to it, enabling Clarke to readjust his footwork three or
four times in the process.
Matt Prior frantically shepherded his slip cordon up a few
yards after one delivery from Anderson
rolled through to him, at which point Strauss looked to exaggerate the point
further by giving Paul Collingwood a trundle.
Collingwood's right arm nibble caused havoc for Matt Prior
behind the stumps, who made a hash of conceding four byes from two consecutive
balls - quite a feat at that tardy pace.
If there is one thing that Marcus North loves more than an
extravagant leave - shouldering arms in a ceremonial fashion - it is to
slog-sweep Panesar over mid-on, a shot he played incessantly.
As Australia's run-rate dipped below 3.5 per over with the
floodlights turned on, North demonstrated that he was stoically determined to leave
literally anything which was not otherwise going on to hit the stumps.
Further rain is anticipated for Day Four, but England must seize the initiative and break this
latest stubborn partnership on a benign, unresponsive pitch and then, in tribute to Ken Barrington, out-prod and out-nurdle their dogged opponents.
USER COMMENTS OF THE DAY: This is really pathetic from England, really pathetic. Only the rain can save them now. What will happen in the Ashes when
all these grounds get retractable roofs, like at Wimbledon?
(Goatscheeseswift) Are you kidding? A roof over a
cricket-sized area with no pillars; you'd be talking at least a billion pounds
for certain! (Neil.Holson)
STAT OF THE DAY: Cardiff is
wettest cricket ground, with 1061mm annual rainfall. On a more positive note, Cardiff has now hosted the first Test match in Britain to have
been played under floodlights.
SHOT OF THE DAY: Ever wondered what it would be like to get
an international batsman down at your local club? Clarke gave us all a glimpse
by carting a decent ball from Panesar straight over the spinner's head for six,
dispatching it nonchalantly over the 64 metre short boundary as if he were playing