SPORT

Hayden, Ponting punish a hapless England

BRISBANE Nov. 7. Australia's muscular left-handed opening batsman Matthew Hayden headed for a huge score by batting all day in front of a record first day Test crowd at his own 'Gabba ground on Thursday and should go on to tackle Brian Lara's world record.

He has both the time and a pedestrian attack at his mercy and, in any case, it has been the preserve of left-handers since Gary Sobers made his 365 against Pakistan in 1958.

It was largely due to Hayden's innings that Australia had one of its golden days but it will know that it was handed its massive first day score of 364 for two by Nasser Hussain's decision to field when he won the toss.

In some ways, in this modern age of sporting strategies and long discussions, it is rather endearing for a captain as good as Hussain to make such a bold decision and be so damnably wrong.

On the other hand there will be many who spend today wondering if Hussain is possessed by demons, completely mad or simply more addicted to suicide than a lemming. He will be roundly condemned by the journalist pack of hounds who follow England everywhere and those in authority back home are already asking if he is coming to the end of his reign.

In a long search today I could find no-one who understood his reasoning. "I wanted to give my bowlers their best chance of winning the match,'' he said immediately afterwards but surely — in a long-term strategic sense — his need was to contain Australia until Darren Gough and Andrew Flintoff, two of his most powerful strike bowlers, were fit enough to bowl.

That was best done by using his strong batsmen not by bowling. Instead he appears to have handed the series to Australia and he will not be consoled by those who remember that Len Hutton put Australia in on the first day of the 1954-5 series and, having lost by an innings and 154 runs, won back the series thanks to brilliant bowling by Frank Tyson.

Tyson watched today's play with a sceptical eye. "Best chance indeed,'' he murmured. "It's just a bad decision.''

Four catches were dropped but the greatest tragedy came when Simon Jones who had already taken the only wicket and produced half a dozen deliveries at more than 90 miles an hour — as well as making a brilliant attempt at a boundary catch that was ruled not out on a moot technical point — slipped in the outfield and damaged ligaments in his knee.

Jones will stay in Australia for two weeks, go home for reconstructive surgery and spend a minimum of six months out of cricket. That may be an optimistic report. He will be fortunate to play Test cricket again.

Believe it or not, England actually bowled quite well but there was little in the pitch — a straw coloured strip in a sea of green — and Hayden and Justin Langer trotted along comfortably at four an over.

Jones came on after an hour and his ninth ball hurried Langer so much that he simply steered the ball to Alec Stewart behind the wicket. By lunch Hayden was 61 and Ricky Ponting dabbing the ball around with certainty.

Four overs into the afternoon came Jones's attempt to stop a four by sliding for the ball and the scream of pain that needed no official announcement to say that his tour was finished. This fetish for spectacular saves near the boundary edge has produced enough victims to make it clear that it is the most dangerous action a bowler can take and it is time some sense was used to curtail this modern practice.

Hayden reached his century in just over three and a half hours. He is a powerful man but too many runs came off the inside edge as he aimed through mid-off and he was dropped three times, another blot on the England performance.

Hayden's finest shot was a curving drive through the offside but it was Ponting who took the eye with his neat shots and his ability to detect changes of pace late and still make an effective stroke.

He was out for 123 at 339, after helping Hayden add 272, a record for the second wicket at the Gabba, in the 76th over and bowled by a ball from the over-the-wicket left-arm spinner Ashley Giles round his legs.

In the absence of Jones's searing pace it was all England had to offer leaving us with the thought that the probably Australian score must be beyond 600.

Recommended for you