On another sweltering day in Nottingham the gladiators stood foursquare against each other. They traded blows once more as they had throughout the entire match, searching for an opening, refusing to yield.
But by the close of the fourth day of the First Test, England appeared at last to have worn down Australia on the initial step of their quest to retain the Ashes. Faced with a target of 311 to win, which would be a record chase at Trent Bridge and is monumental given the state of the pitch and the contest, the tourists were 174 for 6.
Four wickets in hand, 137 runs needed, it is not completely beyond the bounds of possibility with Australia's back end full of men who can wield a bat and the debutant first-innings hero, Ashton Agar, at the crease. Events, however, have conspired against them and if their self-belief has not been sapped now, England must feel that destiny is on their side.
The pivotal moment of the proceedings, which have never been less than utterly absorbing throughout, came in the final session. Throughout the day, as it has for almost the whole match, the sun was beating down.
Australia were grinding out the runs towards history led by their captain, Michael Clarke, stern of countenance, a man with a mission. He had not put a foot wrong but he was taking no chances. With Steve Smith, Clarke had added 50 for the fourth wicket.
It was at the stage where it might go either way. The bookies were giving both sides an equal chance of winning. How England needed a wicket. Clarke was lured into a shot outside off stump by the last ball of an over from Stuart Broad and it dipped low to Matt Prior behind the stumps. England went up and immediately for the catch behind and leapt joyously into each other's arms in that manner which would have Douglas Jardine spinning in his grave.
But umpire Aleem Dar, centre of the controversy surrounding Broad's edge while batting the previous day, was doubting his own eyes by now. If he was sure of the edge he was uncertain whether it had carried. After a chat with his colleague, Kumar Dharmasena, they asked for a replay.
It was evident straightaway that the ball had carried and Dar raised his finger. But his torment was not over because Clarke now asked for the decision to be reviewed to check whether he had edged the ball at all. He probably knew the truth but might have been banking on technology not quite being up to the mark, so to speak.
But the white spot of doom was there, the sound was there and Clarke, for only 23 from 70 balls, was on his way. Dar must have been mightily relieved. The last two individual recipients of the ICC umpire of the year award are standing in this match yet their frailities have been regularly exposed. The decision review system is their enemy as well as their friend and sometimes it makes them hesitant to act.
England, to their credit, immediately sensed a shift in the mood. To the next ball, bowled by Graeme Swann, Smith played back and to his dismay saw the ball turn hugely in to his pads. Dharmasena raised a finger and it looked as though of crew of stewards might be needed to drag Smith from the pitch.
Three runs later, Phil Hughes thought he had survived a raucous lbw shout from Swann when Dharmasena shook his head and indicated that the ball had pitched outside leg stump which negates any appeal. England reviewed it and the replay showed that the ball was just, but only just, pitching on leg stump, and banging into middle stump. Only just is good enough. Agar and Brad Haddin defied England for 10 overs, with tenacity if not assurance.
It has been a Test match for the ages. The standard of play has not always been of the very highest, though frequently it has been of an extremely rare vintage, and the desire of the players has been a sight to behold. The terracotta urn over which they are struggling might contain the meaning of life itself instead of some old cinders of uncertain provenance.
In all probability, this contest of nip and tuck has set the template for the summer in the series sponsored by Investec. Whoever prevails here will have a distinct advantage but it has become clear in the past four days that there is not as much between these teams as England hoped and Australia feared.
Forecasts of 10-0 to England by the end of the double series in January might have been greatly exaggerated. But if England can take the last four wickets today they will have made a significant dent in this home series with the second Test starting at Lord's on Thursday.
Ian Bell deservedly completed his second Ashes century and his first at home in 17 attempts. It was a innings of enormous maturity and command. Bell's touch was consummate, his decisions full of conviction.
England's second innings, like their first, was hurried to its end.. The last four wickets fell for 19 runs, following the loss of the last six for 37 in the first innings. As this series continues, England's late middle order and tail end must find a way of contributing properly. There will definitely come a time when it matters.
A lead of 310, however, seemed plenty. It was only when Shane Watson and Chris Rogers assembled an assertive opening partnership that it began to seem vulnerable. Watson boomed, Rogers, playing only his second Test at the age of 35, was crisp and beautifully ordered.
But Watson was lbw to Broad, beaten by reverse swing, and his review was optimistic at best. Watson made 46, he always seems to make 46. Ed Cowan played a drive, constructed by nerves on the brink of tea, to give Joe Root his first Test wicket, Rogers inexplicably clipped one to mid-wicket. But then not much has been explicable in this match so far.
How the action unfolded
11:15 A misfield at cover allows Ian Bell to get the single that brings his 18th Test century.
11:37 Stuart Broad nicks to the keeper and this time the England man has to go for 65 after a stand of 138 with Bell.
12:02 Bell is the next to go, caught behind off Mitchell Starc. He leaves to an ovation after perhaps his best innings for England.
12:22 James Anderson chips Peter Siddle to short midwicket and England are all out for 375, setting Australia 311.
2:43 Shane Watson is given out lbw to Anderson.
3:38 A nervy innings from Ed Cowan ends just before tea, caught at slip to give Joe Root his first Test wicket.
4:26 A slower ball from Anderson deceives Chris Rogers, who clips to midwicket: 124-3.
5:37 Michael Clarke edges Broad to Matt Prior. Clarke asks for review, but Hot Spot shows he nicked it.
5:40 Graeme Swann dismisses Steven Smith leg before: 161-5.
5:54 Swann works his magic again, taking the wicket of Phil Hughes.
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