It’s self doubt time again. Andrew Strauss somewhat gave the game away with his spontaneous huddle shortly before the new ball was taken. It might have looked business-like and determined but I think Australia will have taken a lot of comfort from it.
What England may have taken comfort from is Australia’s desire to come off only a couple of overs after the floodlights were put on. Because Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin, make no bones about it, were batting brilliantly. The interrpution to their concentration, meaning they have to start fresh again this morning, may be England’s best hope. An early wicket in the style of Andrew Strauss’s dismissal to Ben Hilfenhaus on the second day will be what they’ll be looking for.
That said, and perhaps because I’m such an English pessimist, I’m backing Clarke and Haddin, maybe with determined support from Mitchell Johnson, to finish the job with a world-record chase today. The match seems to have taken another turn, this time towards Australia, and their middle-order resistance will have renewed doggedness on their balcony.
At 121-5, Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey sat out on it alone, right up next to each other, but looking as if they daren’t share their deep and darkest thoughts with each other. By the time Clarke and Haddin had finished that balcony was almost full again, those too timid to show themselves earlier gradually emerging from the dressing-room dimness.
Perhaps should Australia make it, it will be justice. It certainly looked as if they got the wrong end of two – maybe three- decisions on the fourth day, and would be a massive boost after the let-down of Cardiff.
If England fail to pick up the final five wickets, those who felt Strauss should have imposed the follow-on will make their voices heard again. Personally, I think he made the right decision to bat again, especially if he is having to ensure careful handling of Andrew Flintoff’s knee.
My only argument would be whether he should have batted on for half an hour yesterday, raising the target to nearer 600, but that would have left him open to criticism from those who have accused him of too much caution in this regard in other recent Tests.
If Australia do win, though, from the position that they found themselves in mid-way through yesterday afternoon, I fear that it is going to be a kick in the guts to England of the strength they felt in Adelaide in 2006. Perhaps even a lower blow. And one you could not see them recovering from.
Session one, this morning, then, to my mind, could be the one that decides the destination of the Ashes.