There is probably a good explanation for why Australia went from a struggling cricketing team to a dominant force in the Fourth Ashes Test at Headingley. But I don’t know what it is.

Some people are saying that the promotion of Stuart Clark was the reason. That would overlook the fact that Australia had England 3 for 39 before Clark bowled a ball, and that he only took three wickets in the match.

Others have mentioned the fact that Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen weren’t playing. That makes some sense, but KP had hardly fired up this series, and Freddie has had one 50, one five-wicket haul and last Test went wicketless. There is also a faction of English fans who think the umpiring went against them this Test. It did. As it does for almost all losing teams.

The only logical reason that I can think of is that England always had a paper thin batting line up and, for once, Australia had their bowlers in form to take advantage of it.

Siddle and Johnson were both extremely lucky to retain their spots for this Test. The Australian selectors would have been justified in dropping either of them. Instead Nathan Hauritz was dropped. Johnson and Siddle seemed to collectively understand this and both of them took five wicket hauls.

Of course we can never underestimate England’s love of a dramatic collapse. And the first day of this Test was spectacular — their collapse on the second day was almost as good. Six months earlier England had managed to get bowled out for 51 by the West Indies. That cost them a series. These two collapses may well cost them the Ashes as well.

The pitch always had something in it for the bowlers, but it was far from a minefield. Australia managed over 400 hundred on it. It would be true to say that many of those runs were charity given by a clearly rattled England. But on the third morning Broad and Swann both managed 50s and some very quick scoring.

Marcus North got the man of the match award, it seemed wrong. It should have been shared between the three young quicks or Ricky Ponting. North and Clarke may have outscored Ponting, but it was Ponting’s innings that guaranteed this victory.

When he came to the crease Australia had lost one early wicket to a ball that spat off the pitch and had England taken a couple more quick wickets Australia might have fallen apart. Instead Ponting launched an all out assault on the English team and from that moment onwards Australia’s victory was assured.

There is now a long break before the Oval Test. Australia need only to draw to retain the Ashes. The way Ponting batted at Headingley, Australia won’t be playing for a draw.

Go to Crikey’s Ashes homepage for the latest coverage

Peter Fray

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