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Wednesday 20 August 2014

Houdini Haddin proves to be the wizard of the Aussies

Derek Pringle

Published 04/01/2014 | 02:30

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Australia's Brad Haddin
Australia's Brad Haddin

If Brad Haddin does decide to call it a day after this Test, as has been suggested, he could not go out with much more credit to his name after performing another Houdini-like escape act for his team.

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Australia were 97-5 and reeling when he joined Steve Smith at the crease with James Anderson and Stuart Broad at full steam. Smith went on to make a century and take the plaudits from the crowd, but it was Haddin who crushed England's ambition with a controlled, but rapid 75 off 90 balls to lift the Aussies total to 326 all out.

His innings, played without a moment's apprehension about the team's predicament, meant that he has passed 50 in six of his past seven innings.

He also pulled off something of an illusion -- his driving, always risky on a pitch upon which you have been put into bat, was so decisive that England changed tack and bowled short at him. Once that happened, the battle was as good as won and he pulled and cut his team from trouble to territorial gain.

MISTAKE

When he fell, caught at first slip by Cook off Ben Stokes, aiming a drive through the covers, it was if a mistake had been made, but not by him.

Stokes finished with 6-99 off 19.5 overs, only the second time he has taken five wickets or more in first-class cricket. Without even being there you could surmise that it contained a smattering of good balls, a lot of bad ones and some complacency on the part of the batsmen, which is exactly what occurred.

It is possible to have bowled well with figures like that, but not very well.

His bad balls far outweighed his good ones, possibly because his mind was also occupied with the no-balls he bowled for hitting the stumps at the bowler's end, something he does with his hand rather than his knee, which is also Steven Finn's problem.

He was called five times, but once something like that is in the back of your mind, your focus cannot fail to be affected, which may explain the plethora of four-balls, that and the aggression of Haddin and Smith. Stokes fared far better than the three debutants England picked to boost their chances of avoiding an Ashes whitewash. Boyd Rankin and Scott Borthwick endured harrowing opening days to their Test careers.

Making your Test debut is always going to be more challenging in Ashes cricket than against other countries. And so it has proved, with Rankin hobbling off with cramp and Borthwick taking 1-49 off seven overs.

Borthwick's debut in place of Panesar has been one of the more bizarre decisions. Andy Flower, the team director, is not given over to reckless gambles, but this cannot be spun as anything else.

Flower confirmed that he would relish the challenge of returning the Ashes to England by continuing as team director, but decisions like this, over which he has a major influence, suggest otherwise.

They were not the only weak points in England's attempts to prevent Australia winning a fifth successive Test, but they were the most glaring, along with Cook's decision to overbowl Anderson and Broad after lunch, when England had reduced Australia to 97-5.

The pair had bowled 50 balls before Cook brought Rankin on for Broad and then Stokes for Anderson soon after. That meant two Test novices were bowling to Haddin, an old hand who knows the benefits of devouring one's greens.

He did it with relish too, he and Smith taking 45 runs off the seven overs bowled by the pair, an outcome that forced Cook into calling upon Borthwick.

The Durham wrist-spinner's first three overs went for 21, and it meant that Australia had made 66 runs in 10 overs, which was a triumph when disaster had threatened but two hours earlier. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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