The Ashes: ‘Ghost of Adelaide’ still haunts
England return to the scene of the crime tonight. Four years ago in Adelaide, they contrived defeat from a match that was impossible to lose, that they had dominated for more than two days.
The second Test of the Ashes in late 2006 was the clearest example that no game is ever up.
Had it been a mile race, Australia would have been a lap and a half behind, cut the deficit to a lap in the middle and then made the rest up as their opponents were within touching distance of the finishing tape.
For England that was that. The side had been vanquished in Brisbane, had somehow clawed it back but were finished after Adelaide. It was a matter only of how long the next three defeats would take. Five men will walk out for the tourists tonight having experienced the wretchedness of that impossible loss.
Each of them — Andrew Strauss, Paul Collingwood, Kevin Pietersen, Alastair Cook, Ian Bell — will remember it, if only for a fleeting, brutal moment.
The Adelaide Oval is among the most beautiful cricket grounds in the world but to some of the men of England it may feel like a torture chamber.
There is the impression in this country that Australia are on the run and that was given credence with the burgeoning rumour that they were about to drop the fast bowler Mitchell Johnson who had a woeful match in Brisbane. That would not speak of a side at ease with themselves.
But England should still be exercised by what happened here before. Strauss, now the England captain, was in some ways the catalyst for the events that ensued on the final day. About 45 minutes into the morning, nothing much having happened and paid observers starting to do their crosswords until the draw was finally declared, he was given out.
Wrongly as it happened, adjudged to have been caught off bat and pad at short leg, and it was the opening Australia and Shane Warne needed. He took 4-49 in 32 arduous overs.
“There are a lot of memories from four years ago we want to banish,” said Strauss yesterday. “But we played some of our best cricket on the tour here.
“Obviously that final day is one that none of us is proud of. But I'm not sure how relevant it is any more.”
A win here this time could be a decisive advantage because of the cramped nature of the series. There is a break after this match with the last three matches taking place in quick succession between December 16 and January 7, broken only by Christmas and the New Year.
“Whichever team wins this game is going to be in a great position for the rest of the series,” said Strauss.
“This Test match takes on even greater importance in view of what happened in Brisbane and we're going to have to improve our performance, no doubt about it. We came back, we showed a little resilience but you can't afford to be behind in cricket matches too often because eventually the other team will convert that.”
Ricky Ponting, the Australia captain, thinks the three Australians surviving from four years ago may get something out of the result.
“I think you can,” he said. “Whenever you can dig yourself out of tough situations in games you can always reflect back on those moments.”
England are almost certain to keep the same team but Australia are a different matter. The dropping of Johnson is widely predicted and Ben Hilfenhaus is far from safe, with Ryan Harris poised to come in.
They do not know yet and that may be England's best hope of laying to rest ghost of 2006 who has been the cause of so many nightmares since.