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England steals a draw

AUSTRALIANS headed to bed on Sunday with a warm familiar feeling - the comfort of seeing their cricket team with a foot placed firmly on England's throat - but woke up to little short of a nightmare yesterday.

News that England had somehow snatched a draw from the jaws of certain defeat on the final day of the first Ashes test made the morning cornflakes and toast a bit harder to digest in the sports-mad country.

Never mind the heroics of England's Paul Collingwood, who stubbornly batted for six hours as the rest of his teammates sold their wickets on the cheap. Or the cool-headedness of last wicket pair of Monty Panesar and Jimmy Anderson who lasted a nervy final hour under withering pressure.

Such were mere frivolities in the search to apportion blame for a nail-biting draw that felt more like a whimpering defeat for much of the nation's media. Australian captain Ricky Ponting found willing support in his attack on the English dressing room for sending out a 12th man and a physiotherapist ostensibly to tell Panesar and Anderson the rather straightforward fact they had to bat out the final hour.

"To suggest (England captain Andrew Strauss') intentions were good after sending (them) onto the field to deliberately waste time in the dying minutes of the tensely drawn first test is ridiculous," one irate commentator in the Herald-Sun newspaper wrote.

Ponting, however, had his own detractors, and was flayed for throwing the ball with a handful of overs left to part-time spinner Marcus North, whose first innings success with the bat unfairly magnified his ineffectiveness with the ball.

"England tailender Jimmy Anderson thought it was Christmas in July when part-time spinner Marcus North was brought into the attack," said one scribe in a story headlined "Chances go south with North bowling" posted on the Age newspaper's Website.

Although a solitary wicket was the difference between victory and a draw, Australia heads to Lord's for the second test with the painful memories of its 2005 Ashes loss on English soil still biting hard and no extra Antipodean friends in the press box.

"Ricky Ponting's limitations as captain were exposed on an increasingly entertaining opening day played on a supine surface," wrote another reporter for the Age, who the day before had lauded the Tasmanian for his 150-run knock.

England allrounder Andrew Flintoff meanwhile is doubtful for the second Ashes test after suffering pain in his right knee. Flintoff was included in a 14-man squad named yesterday along with pace bowler Steve Harmison.


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