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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 August 2005, 08:32 GMT 09:32 UK
Justin Langer column (3rd Test)
Australia opener Justin Langer writes for BBC Sport on every day of the Ashes series
By Justin Langer
Australian Test batsman

DAY FIVE

You may ask why I didn't send this piece when I returned to my hotel on Monday night - well, frankly I was a little lost for words.

After experiencing the second of two of the best Test matches ever played between England and Australia, not only did I need to lie down and relax, but also, to be honest, it would have hurt too much to tap at my keyboard because of my chewed down fingernails.

Ricky Ponting
Last week at Edgbaston I said how good such an incredibly exciting game of cricket was for the game in England, as well as internationally.

Events at Old Trafford reinforced that view and, regardless of the result, such an event must be huge for the game of cricket overall.

When we arrived at the ground there were scenes reminiscent of the old black and white news reels, where people were queuing for hours to get a seat for the last day of the Test match.

What was most fascinating was that the queues didn't discriminate against anyone in that there were young, old, black, white, boys and girls, men and women, wanting to get inside for what promised to be an historic day.

And, for those lucky enough to secure a seat they must have left the ground fascinated at what had been the second most enthralling day of Test cricket in only two weeks.

Getting down to the last few balls in two successive Tests is simply amazing, and while I might fall back on the bigger picture perspective now, it isn't much fun watching from the changing room.

When Brett Lee survived the last ball, it almost felt like we had won

When Shane Warne was out to a freakish catch from Geraint Jones, I must admit I thought it was going to be tough to survive another eight or so overs.

Then when our superb captain Ricky Ponting left the scene with 24 balls to go I could hardly bear to watch anymore.

Having sat out on the balcony for the entire day, Ricky's dismissal almost sent me into the confines of the changing room to ponder another defeat at the hands of England.

A last strand of hope kept me out on the balcony soaking up every last inch of the electricity in the Manchester air.

Jason Gillespie had been marking off the balls from 72 balls to go on a piece of scrap paper.

He was able to tell us exactly how many balls were left in the day's play - 24, 23, 22...down to six, five, four, three, and of course one ball to survive.

When Brett Lee survived the last from Stephen Harmison, it almost felt like we had won the Test match.

In my whole career I can't remember celebrating a draw, but on Monday, the emotion of drawing such a match was nearly as strong as if we had have won it - but I must emphasise the word 'nearly'.

If there is any justice in a game, and I am not sure there is, it would have seemed unjust if we had have lost after our captain played the best innings of his life.

Ricky is one the best two or three players I have seen and although his brilliant hundred wasn't his belligerent best, it was most certainly his most courageous.

Not only did he help us through this Test but I am certain his innings will ultimately be one of the most significant moments of this already enthralling Ashes series.

As Michael Vaughan came through a tough time in the first innings, Ricky has come through and shown us the way, as all great leaders tend to do.

He was simply magnificent and I have no doubt his performance could be the spark we all need to get back to playing our best cricket.

The upside for us is that we are one all in the series and yet we haven't played anywhere near our best cricket yet.

England have thrown everything at us and with 10 days to prepare for the next Test at Trent Bridge, it will again be interesting to see which team uses the time to sharpen up for drama number four next week.

DAY FOUR

There is no doubt in my mind that the worst part of opening the batting is having to go out and face the fire for 40 minutes before stumps.

Thankfully the light was fading so Stephen Harmison and Matthew Hoggard had to be replaced by two spinners who just happen to have the luxury of bowling on a wearing, fourth-day pitch.

By the time Matty Hayden and I returned to the changing room, relatively unscathed, it would be fair to say the adrenaline was pumping and there was plenty of raw aggression simmering just under my skin.

After enduring a torrid time throughout the day from sections of the Manchester crowd, my blood was boiling when it came time to sit down on my seat and reflect on what had been another tough day at the office.

Warney's 90 was possibly the highlight of the day for us, as was Glenn McGrath's less-than-glorious five-wicket haul. These two players are rarely out of the action.

Andrew Strauss' century probably wasn't his elegant best but it may turn out to be another huge stepping stone in his already blossoming career.

Although it is spinning, this Old Trafford pitch looks to be a good one to bat on

Scoring a ton against the Australian attack will be an incredible confidence boost for my past Middlesex team-mate.

He is getting into an unhealthy habit of being struck in the helmet, but considering this he again showed he has character to burn, to go with his undeniable talent.

Monday promises to be another fascinating day of Test cricket.

Although it is spinning, this Old Trafford pitch looks to be a good one to bat on and if we can all knuckle down and work hard then you just never know what could happen in this already rollercoaster series of unbelievable Test-match cricket.

DAY THREE

My parents have made the trip over to the UK for this Ashes series and after enduring the same frustrations as every supporter at Old Trafford today, my mum asked me, "In heaven's name, what do you do in the changing rooms all day?"

Fans had a frustrating time waiting for the rain to clear at Old Trafford

Besides watching the rain fall for the majority of our supposed cricket time, everyone spends their time doing different things.

The television is always a welcome ally for some and with a rugby Test match between Australia and the All Blacks at 11:00am most of us sat and cheered in vain as the Wallabies went down in a tough encounter.

This was followed by Manchester United's 2-0 victory at Everton, a feast of football, and the World Championship athletics for the sport fanatics within our team.

Others, like Glenn McGrath and Michael Clarke, spent time with Errol Alcott our physiotherapist.

Between therapy on his ankle McGrath played Sudoku, while Brett Lee spent about three hours in a small room out the back honing his skills on his beloved guitar.

Strumming the chords was one thing, singing a few ballads was the other as he kept himself and a few of his wandering team-mates entertained for most of the afternoon.

When the time comes to play cricket we will keep fighting as you might expect from Australia in an Ashes series

Lucy Frostick, our long time masseuse, was kept busy all day by some of my mates looking for a rub of their weary bodies, while Shane Warne sat in his corner for an hour or so signing fan mail and reading letters from mostly adoring fans.

The kitchen wasn't far from the action either as coffee and tea was being made and used as its usual middle man for some serious and not so serious conversations.

Most of the daily newspapers were read in different parts of the changing room and a couple of guys spent time in the gym or doing a yoga session.

Generally days like today feel very long because amidst the waiting around is the knowledge that at some stage you may be required to take part in a Test match.

You are always on edge because you are never quite sure what is going to happen, especially when you have absolutely no control of what the weather may decide to do.

In the short time we did get onto the field, Shane Warne continued his brilliant form with the bat as he and Jason Gillespie took us past the follow-on mark.

In a shortened game this helps bring us back into contention.

What happens tomorrow with the weather is a mystery, but as we witnessed today when the time comes to play cricket we will keep fighting, as you might expect from Australia in an Ashes series.

DAY TWO

This Test match is following a similar sequence to the second, in that England are on top of the game at stumps on day two.

Ashley Giles

There is absolutely no denying England's intensity in this series and tonight we are again licking our wounds and searching for answers for how we can peg back England's momentum.

After another workmanlike and aggressive display of bowling by all of England's bowlers, we are on the back foot.

While we are being outplayed in some areas, we are also working tirelessly on our methods of play.

There is much discussion going on between all of the members of our team and, with the experience and expertise we have within our ranks, we are all hopeful of a return to our best form in the very near future.

Since I was a young boy my father has always emphasised the fact that there is always a second innings in Test cricket.

We will keep fighting and clawing our way until the last ball of the game is bowled

With this is mind we will be doing everything in our power to turn around England's momentum tomorrow.

We have shown that regardless of the circumstances we will keep fighting and clawing our way until the last ball of the game is bowled.

On paper we may look to be in a dire position in this game.

We are honest enough to admit we have to play better in every aspect of the game.

But we also know from experience that if we stick with what we know works best, individually and collectively, then there is no reason why this game can't be won from here.

DAY ONE

Test cricket is often a stage for heroic performances and as a player you hope that each match will give you a chance to shine.

Glenn McGrath

Invariably every Test match produces a different hero which is why there is such an allure to the game.

Not only do we love wondering about the result but we also enjoy waiting for our heroes to do something special in the pressure cooker environment of Test cricket.

And there were a few heroes on stage out there.

First, it was Michael Vaughan, who, so far this series, has been kept under pressure with the bat in his hand.

Bearing that in mind, his brilliant century was doubly heroic because playing well when you haven't got many runs under your belt is never an easy thing to do.

For him to come out and play with the freedom he was able to is a credit to his character and, indeed, temperament.

Ian Bell has been another man under pressure, who has looked nervous every time he has batted in the first two Tests.

While this is understandable against the quality of bowlers he is up against, he needed to score runs here to exorcise some of the demons which always tamper with a young mind.

The way he persevered and fought against Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath will be a huge confidence builder for him and a nice relief for England's selectors who obviously rate him and have backed him to come good.

On a good batting pitch England have probably had the better of the contest

On the other side of the fence, Shane was again world class. He will have days where he bowls a lot worse and gets a bag of wickets.

He has had an exceptional series so far and after bowling for most of the first day, I am sure he will celebrate his 600th Test wicket with a hot bath and good night's sleep.

Six hundred Test wickets - the mind boggles.

Another Herculean, and underrated hero's effort, came from Warney's partner in crime Glenn.

For him to even play this match shows why he has been such a champion for Australia.

Taking wickets is one thing but to play in the amount of pain he has had over the years is inspirational.

Most people wouldn't have considered playing with the injury he has but again he showed the world that being a true champion is about a lot more than just having high skill levels.

Since the moment he rolled his ankle he has worked tirelessly with our legendary physiotherapist Errol Alcott - a testament to the commitment of both those guys.

On a good batting pitch England have probably had the better of the contest so far. We missed a few chances we should have and could have taken but there was no lack of effort on our part.

A few quick wickets in the morning and it will be game on.




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