Boxing Day at the MCG - 4th Ashes Test

Ashes Cricket News 26/12/02

Report by Jon Cocks

Boxing Day dawned fair and sunny. Steve Waugh won the toss and elected to bat on a wicket that showed a little green-ish something early, confident that it would flatten into a belter of a strip. It did and Australia piled on the pressure throughout the bulk of the day, as Englandís four bowlers were exposed as inadequate to the mountainous task of dismissing the awesome Australian batting for something under 350.

An absorbing morning saw Australia go to lunch at 0-88, with Hayden 53* and Langer 33*. Caddick (0-29 from nine overs) and Harmison (0-25 from ten overs) bowled a disciplined line early and put persistent pressure on the batsmen with Harmison worrying Langer with his extra bounce, despite the first two overs of the Test, which went for 15.

Stewart's bruised hands ruled him out and he was replaced by Foster behind the stumps. Foster showed tidy gloves and excellent footwork to save four byes a couple of times from errantly wide deliveries. Crawley and Caddick returned to the England side as well. Martin Love was making debut in test cricket, courtesy of Darren Lehmann's leg infection, with MacGill was covering for the injured Warne.

The absence of the old Ponsford Stand allows a breeze to blow across the ground, as the MCG's coliseum-like unbroken ring of towering stands is in the first stages of its facelift. This opening may affect the work of the bowlers in ways yet to be seen fully. Caddick and Harmison both moved the new ball in the air back into the left-handed batsmen.

The England field went somewhat defensive early, with a cover and a mid on almost at once for Hayden, who hooked Caddick's first ball to him down to fine leg, just a little way over Harmison's head. The big guy from Durham was probably ten metres too far inside the rope.

Harmison started to show real promise, testing Langer outside off stump with a good line and length and making him struggle with the bounce. Meanwhile, Hayden thick-edged an attempted pull painfully into the side of his kneecap.

The fifty came up in the twelfth over, bowled by the newly introduced White, as the batsmen gradually began to increase the tempo. Harmison returned from Caddick's end and maintained his good work from earlier, albeit with the occasional loose ball.

But Australia steadily gained control of proceedings. Hayden missed nothing and duly raised his fifty a little before lunch. Langer, who played a few false strokes early, retreated into some of the relative circumspection of his earlier career in the Baggygreen, importantly for him going to lunch with his wicket intact.

Australia finished the second session on a commanding 2-235 from 53.5 overs, adding 147 with dominant strokeplay of brute power and authority. Justin Langer, 108* at tea, realised the promise of his first three Ashes Test attacking cameos this afternoon, by being more restrained early, especially after Harmison troubled him with rising balls outside the off stump.

He raised his century, but not before Matt Hayden, whose glorious 102 came from 148 balls, with three punishing sixes and ten imperious fours. Hayden's downfall was to try to repeat an earlier legside flick to a ball outside off. Caesar-like, he bestrode the crease in total loot and plunder mode, perhaps - as Caesar did - becoming too ambitious.

Hayden and Langer brought up their eighth century opening partnership in their relatively short pairing at the top of the order. Richie Benaud described this session as 'a fearful thrashing', despite England managing to remove Ponting on the stroke of tea.

The accelerator went down at once after lunch, with 31 coming from the first six overs, as Langer slapped Caddick hard and square to the backward point rope. A flurry of boundaries from both batsmen ensued, and when Dawson came to the crease, he was swept and driven to the fence as well.

Hayden leant onto his back foot to Harmison, teed up to the fast and only fractionally short ball outside off and pulverised it over gully, endangering the lives of the wildly cheering crowd at least six deep behind the hoardings. He hooked the next ball to the backward square leg rope and the earlier signs of England's wheels becoming dislodged came to complete fruition, as Harmison's over realised 15.

Both batsmen savaged Dawson and the introduction of White merely led to more soul-destroying leather-chasing. Hayden slowed briefly in his nineties as he steadied himself to raise the century and it came a little fortuitously, when he and Langer ran two, as his top-edge lofted hook fell just short of the stretching fine leg fielder. Hayden bowed to the Southern Stand amid thunderous acclaim from the sellout crowd.

Hayden's majestic knock was ended when Crawley caught his leading edge at mid off, but Ponting simply took the baton and ran with it, immediately driving stylishly and deftly late-cutting boundaries. The 200 came up - from 47.1 balls.

Langer moved from 95 to 201 with a monstrous stright drive for six from Dawson (0-67 from 14 overs), who must have begun feeling a tad punchdrunk. Hussain introduced the right arm medium 'ordinary' of Butcher, hoping in vain for something extraordinary.

Butcher couldn't come up with a miracle, but Craig White was equal to the task, when his short ball outside off to Ponting inveigled its way onto the stumps off inside edge and back leg, ending the session one delivery early. In the only low note, Ricky Ponting had caressed 21 off around that many balls and was a little unfortunate to get an inside edge from an innocuous White medium-pacer onto his back pad and hear it rattle his stumps.

In a sturdy effort of line and length bowling from England in the first half-hour after tea, Langer was hit on the helmet and Martyn (17) fell to a cut shot caught by Crawley from Caddick. The advent of Steve Waugh, a man on a mission, saw Australia powering through the final 36 overs, adding another 121. Waughís first four scoring shots went to the rope. Further cracking offside shots pushed him past a better than run-a-ball half century to being not out on an imposing 62 at stumps.

It's interesting to note that six of Australia's top seven batsmen are in the all-time Australian top ten Test batting averages, Langer being the odd man out. It's safe to say that he would be happier with reaching 146* at stumps.

Steve Waugh feasted on the short, wide and tasty-pastry offerings of Butcher (5-1-34-0), to the extent of five boundaries all around the wicket, before Hussain banished his change bowler back to the outfield. To compound Butcherís misery, Waugh was the beneficiary of a third umpire decision that Butcher didn't take him cleanly at second slip, when a Caddick delivery found a rare outside edge of the Australian captainís bat.

The final session began and ended quietly, but the batting dominance in the middle of it bespoke volumes for Langer's determination to bat out the day and reach 200 on the second morning. But even that determination was put in the shade by the single-minded ruthlessness shown by Steve Waugh, as Australia went in at the close of play on 3-356.

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