Angus Fraser: England's hopes shining bright thanks to Flintoff and bad light - Cricket - Sport - The Independent

Angus Fraser: England's hopes shining bright thanks to Flintoff and bad light

England 373 & 34-1 Australia 367

England were on 7 for 1 at the time, 13 runs ahead of Australia. Andrew Strauss had just been caught at short leg and Shane Warne was looking as though he might wreck the party which was threatening to break out in the stands. But the intervention of the umpires, whose offer of bad light was gratefully accepted, allowed the spectators to return to the euphoric state created by England's bowling in the morning. This wonderful side is within 60 overs of winning the Ashes for the first time in 18 years.

A minimum of 98 overs are scheduled to be bowled today, a period of time that England will need to occupy to get their hands on cricket's oldest and most prized possession. The weather is unlikely to make the task easier ­ sunny spells are forecast ­ but if Vaughan's side occupy the crease for 60 overs they should have a lead that even Australia would be unable to chase on the final afternoon of this thrilling series.

It will not be easy, and there are sure to be nervy moments against Warne and a proud Australian side who will hit England with everything they can. But it should be well within the grasp of a team that reacts well under pressure and has the potential to become the best in the world. The pitch will offer Warne help ­ which pitch does not? ­ but Australia cannot expect him to do it on his own. The legendary leg-spinner will need assistance from his fast-bowling mates if Australia are to pull off a remarkable victory.

Ricky Ponting, the Australian captain, was understandably disappointed with Vaughan and Trescothick's decision, but he would have acted in exactly the same way had he been in their position. The teams returned 50 minutes after the first break and a further 47 balls were bowled before the umpires once again deemed the light to be unacceptable. Vaughan and Trescothick came through the ordeal, and extended England's lead to 40.

It was a rather unsatisfactory way for the day to finish after a morning of inspired cricket from England. Predictably, it was Flintoff who whipped England into action with his second five-wicket haul in Test cricket. Bad light and ideal bowling conditions for a seamer helped Flintoff to dominate proceedings, but this was an outstanding piece of bowling. On Saturday, Flintoff called for his team-mates to give one last effort and he set the perfect example when he bowled, unchanged, from the Pavilion End for two hours during the morning session. Before lunch the all-rounder took 3 for 24 in 11.2 hostile overs, and he continued after lunch, finishing with figures of 5 for 78 in 34 overs.

Hoggard played his part, too, taking 4 for 4 in 19 balls as the tourists lost their last eight wickets for 86 runs.

Damien Martyn was the first Australian who failed to come to terms with Flintoff, when he attempted to pull him through the leg side. The aggression shown by England's bowlers throughout the series has unsettled Martyn and his unconvincing stroke offered a simple catch to Paul Collingwood at square leg.

Matthew Hayden is one of the players whose career could come to an end if Australia lose the Ashes. Yet on Friday and Saturday he responded as a top sportsman does by scoring a determined and valuable century. In their quest for quick runs, Australia ignored the bad light offer from the umpires. In murky conditions, it is not only the batsmen who struggle to pick up the ball, and Flintoff could be forgiven for dropping Michael Clarke at second slip. Hoggard was once again the unlucky bowler.

Yet Hayden could do very little about the delivery which ended his seven-hour innings. Flintoff, armed with the second new ball, was making the ball zip around all over the place.

In the early part of his career Flintoff was only able to angle the ball across left-handed batsmen, but his bowling has developed and he has learnt how to seam and swing the ball back. And it was this type of delivery which accounted for Hayden and Simon Katich. Playing forward to a 6ft 6in brute who bowls the ball at 85 to 90mph is a hazardous task. Hayden was attempting to do this against the ball that dismissed him, a nip-backer that rapped him on the pad. Hayden knew it was close and, in the true spirit of this series, said "well bowled" to Flintoff as he walked past him.

Katich never looked comfortable, and it was no surprise to see Flintoff remove him in his next over. Australia were now 329 for 5, still 43 runs behind. The brace of wickets brought Adam Gilchrist to the crease, and he set off like a rocket, smashing three glorious boundaries.

While Gilchrist and Clarke were together Australia would have believed they could reach 500 but Gilchrist was trapped lbw by Hoggard in the last over before lunch, a wicket which possibly ensured that the Ashes were coming home.

Clarke was dropped again after the interval but his luck ran out when he missed a straight ball from Hoggard. Warne soon followed when he top-edged a pull at Flintoff to Vaughan at mid-on. The England captain juggled the catch and it gave his talisman his second five-wicket haul in Tests.

With the crowd cheering every ball, even though they could not see it, Glenn McGrath edged a catch to Strauss and the innings ended when Brett Lee was caught by Ashley Giles on the midwicket boundary.

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