England are within touching distance of the Ashes. On a dramatic afternoon yesterday they turned the series against Australia on its head.
All they must do now – and all is a very considerable amount indeed – is keep their nerve and apply their skills to their utmost, then some time this weekend the terracotta urn, which continues to be the cause of all the fuss, will be in their possession once more.
This series had already witnessed one compelling spell of fast bowling by England and on the second day of the fifth npower Test it saw another of still more resplendent vintage. This time it was not Andrew Flintoff, the hero of Lord's, but the new kid on the all-round block, Stuart Broad.
It is not quite a done deal (if the Ashes were a house, England would be on the verge of exchanging contracts) and, until the last ball is bowled, concerns must remain, the extent of which were demonstrated by the crucial loss of three English second-innings wickets in the evening when Mitchell Johnson looked equally lethal.
The first-innings lead, however, was 172, a margin rude with health for the home side, and by the end of proceedings, at 58 for 3, that had been extended to 230. During the day, 243 runs were scored and 15 wickets lost.
Broad delighted a crowd hardly able to take it in. In an insistent, constantly probing spell which made full use of a capricious pitch and Australia's doubts about it, he not only undermined the opposition's innings but probably turned the rubber irrevocably England's way. For its timing as well as its skill, it was up there with the greatest of all Ashes bowling. He was abetted by the off-spinner, Graeme Swann, who was equally effective and enthused by the occasion.
The surface was unquestionably part of the cause of Australia's downfall – as it was for England's losses in the evening – and England were also helped on their way to a likely reception at the palace by two abject umpiring decisions, one of which was not leg before because the batsman hit it and one of which was not out caught because the batsman did not hit it.
But neither of those elements was to blame for Australia's third first-innings failure of the series. As England had at Headingley a fortnight earlier, they froze, dogged by their suspicions about a pitch which was behaving on the second day as if it had been played on for half a lifetime.
In short, Australia felt the pitch had been rigged to ensure that there could be no draw and they were deeply disturbed by it. They might have expected to be on the wrong end of some crass umpiring as they have been for much of the summer – the unfortunate guilty party on both occasions was Asad Rauf – but it cannot have helped their state of mind.
Broad finished with 5 for 37 from 12 consecutive overs in the prolonged post-lunch session. It was the 237th time that an England bowler had taken five wickets or more in an innings against Australia but few of the previous 236, including his own haul at Leeds, can have been so thrillingly influential.
Had England fielded two spinners, which had seemed probable and might have been advisable given the nature of the surface, Broad could have been omitted. As it was, he was the fifth of England's five bowlers to be given a bash. By then Australia, who will rue for an age their decision to play without a specialist spinner, had survived some early scares and progressed rather jauntily to 73 without loss, thus positioning themselves for a tilt at England's adequate but hardly formidable total of 332.
Then Broad arrived. He was given immediate confidence by winning a justified lbw verdict against Shane Watson in his first over, and shortly afterwards he dislodged the cream of Australia's batting. The audience was spellbound. Ricky Ponting, Mike Hussey and Michael Clarke all succumbed to Broad in the space of nine balls without him conceding a run.
He bowled full, straight and within himself. Ponting, uncommonly nervous and agitated, a man who knew what he had to do but had forgotten how to do it, chopped on from an inside edge with his feet stuck in the crease. Hussey was undone by the third ball he faced cutting back into him, removed for a duck for the second time in the series and then, wicket of wickets, Clarke, the batsman of the series, reached for a cover drive and was snaffled by Jonathan Trott standing at short extra for precisely such a misjudgement.
Swann could be thankful both for Broad's incisions and for the official help provided in the case of two of his four wickets. But that could not detract from some wise off-break bowling which made judicious use of the turning pitch. If Marcus North and Stuart Clark were wronged, Swann was simply too adroit on the day for Simon Katich and Mitchell Johnson.
There was plenty of time for England to extend their lead, plenty too for the tourists to keep the Ashes flame flickering. Naturally, they chose the latter course. Alastair Cook tamely touched a non-turning off-break to slip but Johnson worked up some serious pace. He dispatched a wary Ian Bell prodding to short leg and Paul Collingwood with a vicious lifter which was haplessly dealt with. The game was still on, but not for much longer.
The Oval Scoreboard
England won toss
ENGLAND First Innings
Overnight: 307-8 (I Bell 72, A Strauss 55)
S Broad c Ponting b Hilfenhaus: 37
69 balls 5 fours
J Anderson lbw b Hilfenhaus: 0
6 balls 0 fours
S Harmison not out: 12
12 balls 3 fours
Extras (b 12, lb 5, w 3, nb 18) 38
Total (90.5 overs) 332
Fall: 1-12 (Cook), 2-114 (Strauss), 3-176 (Collingwood), 4-181 (Bell), 5-229 (Prior), 6-247 (Flintoff), 7-268 (Trott), 8-307 (Swann), 9-308 (Anderson), 10-332 (Broad).
Bowling: B Hilfenhaus 21.5-5-71-3 (nb5) (4-0-18-0, 14-4-41-1, 1-1-0-0, 2.5-0-12-2), P Siddle 21-6-75-4 (nb4) (5-1-22-1, 3-0-20-0, 9-5-11-2, 1.3-0-10-1, 2.3-0-12-0), S Clark 14-5-41-0 (5-3-6-0, 4-1-11-0, 5-1-24-0), M Johnson 15-0-69-2 (w3nb8) (5-0-27-0, 4-0-19-0, 6-0-23-2), M North 14-3-33-0 (nb1) (4-1-8-0, 10-2-25-0), S Watson 5-0-26-0 (one spell).
AUSTRALIA First Innings
S Watson lbw b Broad: 34
69 balls 7 fours
S Katich c Cook b Swann: 50
107 balls 7 fours
*R Ponting b Broad: 8
15 balls 1 fours
M Hussey lbw b Broad: 0
M Clarke c Trott b Broad: 3
M North lbw b Swann: 8
17 balls 1 fours
†B Haddin b Broad: 1
M Johnson c Prior b Swann: 11
24 balls 2 fours
P Siddle not out: 26
38 balls 5 fours
S Clark c Cook b Swann: 6
8 balls 1 fours
B Hilfenhaus b Flintoff: 6
21 balls 1 fours
Extras (b 1, lb 5, nb 1): 7
Total (52.5 overs): 160
Fall: 1-73 (Watson), 2-85 (Ponting), 3-89 (Hussey), 4-93 (Clarke), 5-108 (North), 6-109 (Katich), 7-111 (Haddin), 8-131 (Johnson), 9-143 (Clark), 10-160 (Hilfenhaus).
Bowling: J Anderson 9-3-29-0 (6-2-20-0, 3-1-9-0), A Flintoff 13.5-4-35-0 (6-3-7-0, 4-0-13-0, 3.5-1-15-0), G Swann 14-3-38-4 (5-1-15-0, 9-2-23-4), S Harmison 4-1-15-0 (nb1) (one spell), S Broad 12-1-37-5 (one spell).
Progress Second day 50 in 19.3 overs, Lunch 61-0 (Watson 30, Katich 26) 20.2 overs, 100 in 32.3 overs, Tea 133-8 ( Siddle 10, Clark 1) 45.0 overs, 150 in 49.5 overs, Katich 50: 106 balls, 7 fours.
ENGLAND Second Innings
*A Strauss not out: 32
100 balls 4 fours
A Cook c Clarke b North: 9
I Bell c Katich b Johnson: 4
7 balls 1 four
P Collingwood c Katich b Johnson: 1
J Trott not out: 8
21 balls 1 four
Extras (lb 1, w 1, nb 2): 4
Total (3 wkts, 28 overs): 58
Fall: 1-27 (Cook), 2-34 (Bell), 3-39 (Collingwood).
Bowling: B Hilfenhaus 5-1-9-0 (nb2) (one spell), P Siddle 6-1-15-0 (one spell), M North 9-2-15-1, M Johnson 4-0-12-2 (w1), S Katich 4-2-6-0.
Umpires: Asad Rauf (Pak) & B F Bowden (NZ).
TV replay umpire : P J Hartley.
Match referee: R S Madugalle.
Turning points: How the action unfolded
*11.05am: Anderson trapped lbw for 0. His first Test duck in 55 innings.
*11.24am: Broad is caught by Ponting to bring England's innings to an end.
*2.41pm: Watson, lbw, b Broad, 34.
*3.02pm: Ponting also falls to Broad.
*3.09pm: Hussey, lbw, Broad, 0.
*3.21pm: The series' leading scorer, Michael Clarke, is snared in a perfectly laid trap by Broad.
*3.49pm: North, lbw, b Swann, 8.
*3.56pm: Katich, c Cook, b Broad, 50.
*4.04pm: Broad bowls Haddin for 1.
*4.24pm: Johnson, c Prior, b Swann, 11.
*5.00pm: Clark unluckily given out caught off Swann's bowling.
*5.19pm: Hilfenhaus, b Flintoff, 6.
*6.19pm: First England wicket down is Cook, caught at slip by Clarke.
*6.34pm: Bell c Katich, b Johnson, 4.
*6.45pm: Collingwood out for 1.
Weather and TV
Dry and overcast all day with minimal chance of rain. Max temp: 2C.
Tomorrow will be similar, warm and staying mainly dry. Max temp: 26C
Today: Sky Sports 1, HD1: 10.00-19.00
Highlights: Five 19.15-20.00
Tomorrow: Sky Sports 1, HD1: 10.00-19.00 Highlights Five: 19.15-20.00