Amid routine drama, tension and spectacular achievement, all manner of possibilities opened up in the Ashes last night. If England hold their nerve they could, perhaps should, change 75 years of history today. But if Australia retain the control they carved out so assiduously towards the evening of the fourth day of the second Test they will rewrite the history of the whole game.
Set a record 522 to win by England, who must have considered themselves fireproof since no side has scored more than 418 to win a Test match, the tourists recovered from 128 for 5 to finish the day on 313 without further loss. Whereas earlier in the day nothing had gone Australia's way and everything had gone England's, the position had completely reversed by its end.
A string of contentious decisions went against Australia at the start of their second innings, a sequence of near-misses plagued England as it went on. Australia's resistance, which took so long to arrive, was expertly fashioned by their vice-captain Michael Clarke, who assembled a pristine century. But he would have been cast adrift without the assistance of the wicketkeeper, Brad Haddin, who might have been less assured but who refused to shed his composure.
Most of England's inspiration came from Andrew Flintoff, who was fast, accurate and hostile in three separate spells. The first was the most telling because it contained two wickets, but the third was breathtaking in its resolve and intent. By then it was clear that Flintoff's right knee was causing him considerable distress and that he was bowling through the pain.
Reports that he will bring forward his premature retirement were rebuffed by his employers at the England and Wales Cricket Board but he trudged about like a wounded warrior between overs, and it was possible to believe he was doing this for the last time. Whatever is to happen, he will have left nothing unspent out on the Lord's ground by the close of proceedings today.
If England were slightly flat after their outrageous start, when it seemed they must go ahead in the series with a day of the match to spare, that was because of the assertive, authoritative manner in which Clarke played. He had said at the outset that Australia thought they could win because that was their way, but how he demonstrated his readiness to embellish those words with deeds.
How hopeless it looked shortly after lunch when England had made all the inroads into their opponents' innings that they must have craved. How they must have assumed that Lady Luck and her sister Dame Fortune had come to this great ground on this day purely to bestow their favours on them. But as the day wore on it seemed to become clear that the old gals were only teasing and that England from hereon will have to make their own luck if they wish to beat Australia at Lord's for the first time since 1934.
England had the most rip-roaring of starts after Andrew Strauss decided to declare their second innings at the overnight 311 for 6 when early rain slightly delayed the start. He must have known there was still time for Australia to score the runs if they batted through but in the eyes of all sensible observers it was still solely academic.
From the start, Flintoff roared in from the Pavilion End and his control was matched by that of James Anderson from the Nursery End. It was titanic stuff and the crowd supported Flintoff as crowds once supported gladiators.
In the fourth over of the innings, he persuaded the resolute Simon Katich to drive. It flew to one of the two gullies (how Strauss' plans were working to perfection then) and Kevin Pietersen snaffled the chance. Only after Katich had safely negotiated his way back through the Long Room did television replays show Flintoff had overstepped and should have been no-balled, thus immediately negating any catch.
Worse was to follow for Australia when Phillip Hughes, who had already flirted with danger, was caught by Strauss at slip. Ricky Ponting, at the other end, instructed the tyro opener, to stay where he was because he doubted the catch had carried. Television cameras seemed to doubt it too but what counted was that the umpires did not and Hughes was gone.
Strauss, it should be said, claimed the low catch straightaway, though an umpire review might easily have brought a different outcome.
So it continued for England. In the first part of the afternoon they captured the victim they wanted above all, Ponting himself. When Australia's captain chopped on to his stumps his side looked exposed. And when England had the Lady and the Dame backing them again – with Mike Hussey given out caught off a hugely turning off-break from Graeme Swann that he did not actually hit, the breach was significant.
The Australians had hardly had time to rue what was going on when Marcus North's awkward forward prop was pierced by a straight ball from Swann which bowled him. The breach looked beyond repair. But Clarke who had begun in electrifying fashion with a series of exquisite cover drives, now became more diligent.
After tea he took most of the bowling and England were clearly running out of ideas, the early movement and excitement having both disappeared. The Australians accumulated, they played Swann comfortably and the horizon began to grow closer.
Clarke reached his 11th Test hundred with a clip through mid-wicket and he was quite magisterial throughout. Haddin, for whom there were more alarms, went to 50. England sat in until the second new ball, trying to deny access to scoring opportunities, and just before it was taken Strauss called his men together.
Flintoff charged in again as if indeed it was the last time. He passed Clarke's bat with a beauty, but edge came there none. Haddin flashed at Anderson and bisected the slips perfectly.
Flintoff is limping, so too is Pietersen, who is obviously in discomfort from his achilles injury. England may yet have to face their whole future without one and the rest of this series without the other. The importance of winning is higher than it has been for at least three-quarters of a century.
England won toss
England First innings 425
Australia First innings
(Overnight Friday: 156-8)
N M Hauritz c Collingwood b Onions......... 24
54 min, 36 balls, 4 fours.........
P M Siddle c Strauss b Onions......... 35
65 min, 47 balls, 5 fours
B W Hilfenhaus not out ......... 6
20 min, 14 balls, 1 four
Extras (b4 lb6 nb 2) ......... 12
Total (286 min, 63 overs) ......... 215
Fall: 1-4 (Hughes), 2-10 (Ponting), 3-103 (Katich), 4-111 (Hussey), 5-111 (Clarke), 6-139 (North), 7-148 (Johnson), 8-152 (Haddin), 9-196 (Hauritz), 10-215 (Siddle).
Bowling: Anderson 21-5-55-4, Flintoff 12-4-27-1 (nb2), Broad 18-1-78-2, Onions 11-1-41-3, Swann 1-0-4-0.
Progress (third day): 200 in 270 min, 59.1 overs. Innings closed 11.59am.
England Second innings
*A J Strauss c Clarke b Hauritz ......... 32
65 min, 48 balls, 4 fours
A N Cook lbw b Hauritz ......... 32
55 min, 42 balls, 6 fours
R S Bopara c Katich b Hauritz ......... 27
136 min, 93 balls, 4 fours
K P Pietersen c Haddin b Siddle ......... 44
157 min, 101 balls, 5 fours
P D Collingwood c Haddin b Siddle......... 54
123 min, 80 balls, 4 fours
†M J Prior run out ......... 61
51 min, 42 balls, 9 fours
A Flintoff not out ......... 30
42 min, 27 balls, 4 fours
S C J Broad not out ......... 0
1 min, 0 balls
Extras (b16 lb9 w1 nb5)......... 31
Total (6 wkts dec, 318 min, 71.2 overs)......... 311
Fall: 1-61 (Cook) 2-74 (Strauss) 3-147 (Bopara) 4-174 (Pietersen) 5-260 (Prior) 6-311 (Collingwood).
Bowling: Hilfenhaus 19-5-59-0 (nb3), Johnson 17-2-68-0 (nb1,w1), Siddle 15.2-4-64-2, Hauritz 16-1-80-3 (nb1), Clarke 4-0-15-0.
Australia Second innings
P J Hughes c Strauss b Flintoff......... 17
44min, 34 balls, 2 fours
S M Katich c Pietersen b Flintoff......... 6
15 min, 5 balls, 1 four
*R T Ponting b Broad......... 38
96 min, 69 balls, 6 fours
M E K Hussey c Collingwood b Swann......... 27
109 min, 63 balls, 3 fours
M J Clarke not out......... 125
257 min, 198 balls, 13 fours
M J North b Swann......... 6
26 min, 25 balls, 1 four
†B J Haddin not out......... 80
188 min, 126 balls, 10 fours
Extras (b 4, lb 6, w 0, nb 4, pens 0)......... 14
Total (5 wkts, 370 mins, 86 overs)......... 313
Fall: 1-17 (Katich), 2-34 (Hughes), 3-78 (Ponting), 4-120 (Hussey), 5-128 (North).
To bat: M G Johnson, N M Hauritz, P M Siddle, B W Hilfenhaus.
Bowling: Anderson 18-3-81-0 (6-1-30-0 4-0-22-0 2-1-5-0 3-0-12-0 3-1-12-0), Flintoff 17-3-49-2 (nb4) (7-2-9-2 7-1-26-0 3-0-14-0), Onions 9-0-50-0 (5-0-25-0 4-0-25-0), Broad 13-3-32-1 (9-2-23-1 4-1-9-0), Swann 23-3-62-2 (8-1-23-2 15-2-39-0), Collingwood 6-1-29-0 (one spell).
Progress: Fourth day (min 98 overs): Rain delayed start until 11.14am. 50 in 82 min, 16.3 overs. Lunch 76-2 (Ponting 37, Hussey 13) 22 overs. 100 in 137 min, 28.5 overs. 150 in 202 min, 43.2 overs. Tea 178-5 (Clarke 60, Haddin 15) 49 overs. 200 in 248 min, 54.5 overs. 250 in 315 mins, 72.5 overs. New ball taken after 80 overs at 287-5. 300 in 353 min, 82.4 overs. Bad light stopped play 6.25pm.
Clarke 50: 94 min, 58 balls, 7 fours. 100 208 min, 159 balls, 10 fours. Haddin 50: 138 min, 95 balls, 5 fours.
Umpires: B R Doctrove (WI) and R E Koertzen (SA).
Match referee: J J Crowe (NZ).
Turning points How events unfolded on the fourth day at Lord's
*10.55am: Australian belief With rain still falling and the start delayed, England declare. Tourists need 522 to win, 104 more than ever scored to win a Test. Aussie fans believe they can do it, and English unfortunately agree.
*11.30am: Breakthrough Simon Katich edges to gully – England have their new-ball breakthrough.
*11.38am: Fred oversteps Replays indicate that Andrew Flintoff had overstepped the popping crease and should have been no-balled, so Katich should not have been out.
*11.56am: Australian uproar Phillip Hughes is caught at slip by Andrew Strauss but Ricky Ponting believes it may not have carried. The umpires do not ask for a referral but replays suggest the ball could have touched the ground. Australians are
up in arms.
*1.47pm: Ponting's downfall The wicket England crave the most. Ponting chops on, trying to cut a ball too close to him. No doubt on this one.
*2.21pm: England's luck holds Graeme Swann bowls a deceptive, sharply turning off-break to Mike Hussey whose drive is smartly held by Paul Collingwood at slip.But Hussey, it turns out, did not hit the ball which accounts for his surprise on being given out.
*3.25pm: Clarke's 50 Michael Clarke, batting beautifully, reaches 50.
*4.52pm: Steaming on
Of 13 overs, 78 balls, since tea, Brad Haddin faced only 16 as Clarke paces perfectly.
*5.35pm: Clarke's hundred Clarke clips his 159th ball for two through mid-wicket to reach a wonderful hundred, his first at Lord's. A ball earlier, Brad Haddin arrives at his 50. The Aussies need only another 283.
*6.25pm: Bad light stops play
History will be made today, but who by?Reuse content