Aussie Ashes hopes boosted by inept England

Published: Tuesday, May 16, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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London :Australia's belief they have lent rather than lost the Ashes to England can only have been strengthened by the home's side's inept performance against Sri Lanka over the past three days.

The Sri Lankans were down and out at Lord's on Saturday after being forced to follow on 359 runs behind. Fourteen hours later they were still batting in their second innings when bad light stopped play for the final time.

With the Ashes rematch starting in November, England had expected a comfortable victory against a transitional Sri Lanka side who rarely travel well.

Instead, after losing to Pakistan and drawing with India in the off-season, they have now failed to put away the third of the sub-continental teams in conditions theoretically ideal for the England fast bowlers.

Abysmal catching was the root of the problem and if England had held the nine chances which went begging they would have won comfortably.

Also, although none of the bowlers performed badly in the second innings, they lacked penetration on a Lord's pitch admittedly offering little assistance.

Lack of experience at all levels was probably the key factor.

Acting captain Andrew Flintoff gave a lion-hearted performance with the ball, bowling 51 overs in the second innings. His captaincy, though, lacked imagination and he singularly failed to put extra pressure on the tailenders.

When he was off the field, Andrew Strauss took over although it is only two years since he made his test debut. Moreover three of the bowlers -- Sajid Mahmood, Liam Plunkett and Monty Panesar -- were playing their first internationals in England.

England's regular captain Michael Vaughan, who consistently out-witted his Australian counterpart Ricky Ponting in last year's Ashes series, is making a slow recovery from the latest injury to his troubled right knee and may not play in the three-test series against Sri Lanka. If fit he will return for the four-test series against Pakistan, a team with at least as much individual talent as either England or Australia.

Steve Harmison, England's leading strike bowler, is expected to be fit for the second test against Sri Lanka, which will take some of the burden off Flintoff.

In public, at least, Flintoff was not downhearted.

'' We played some good cricket and got into some good positions,'' he told a news conference.

''We know the Sri Lankans can fight and they have some talented players in their dressing room, but our confidence has not been dented as a team and we're still expecting to win the series.

''I think the way they batted in the first innings gave a false representation of the pitch -- it was still a very good wicket and they came out and applied themselves in the second innings.

''There are a few tired legs but the mood in the dressing room was great, they're a good bunch of lads and enjoy playing cricket for England.

''They would have liked to have come out of this game with a win, but there are a lot of positives coming out of it.''

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