Clarke summons grit and grandeur to deny England

Australia 263 & 375-5 England 376
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The Independent Online

So, it meandered peacefully to a draw. Without alarms, twists or any of the other drama that habitually attends the Ashes, England were comfortably denied by Australia yesterday.

An innings of effortless grandeur by Michael Clarke, at least until its final rites, and another by Marcus North that was less opulent but equally effective ensured that the third Test petered out by mid-afternoon. Australia will be mightily relieved that they were able to repel their opponents with less fuss than it takes to make a cup of tea but the fact remains that they are still 1-0 down with only two matches left.

To retain the urn, the tourists have to win at least once, while depriving England. They have hardly looked like doing so and for the second successive match had simply to try to hang on after a dreadful first innings.

Clarke, who reached his 12th Test hundred with the last shot of the match, and North, who failed by four runs to acquire his third, ensured that the match ended in a draw with 13.3 overs left, by which time Australia were 262 runs ahead. Had there been a sixth day it might have been riveting.

If there are firm indications that some individual Australians are in form – Clarke above all – the capturing of 20 wickets looks as though it will remain a conundrum, though that goes for both sides. Although England will have been disappointed not to make more inroads yesterday, the ball resolutely refusing to swing as it had in the first innings, they will regroup at Headingley tomorrow content that they have once more forced their old foes on to the back foot.

England's squad for the fourth game, starting on Friday, will be announced today and is likely to bear a startling resemblance to the one that gathered at Edgbaston. The suspicion is that they will give further considerable thought to the inclusion of Stephen Harmison.

Many of the next few hours and days will be taken up with concerns over the state of Andrew Flintoff's right knee. His movement in the field yesterday could hardly have been more restricted had he been bound from head to foot in chains.

Perhaps he will be picked in the squad, perhaps he can be patched up sufficiently to take his place in the team but it will be a near thing either way. Men with zimmer frames wearing diving boots would move more fluently than Flintoff does at present between the overs he bowls and even on Sunday when he blazed his way to 74 to establish a lead that gave England a sniff he was using his bat as a walking stick. It will also be noted that he bowled 40 overs in the match, took no wickets and rarely looked like doing so. Who would be a Test all-rounder? Not, for much longer, Flintoff.

Few Ashes matches of recent years have ended as tamely as this. Of course we have all been spoiled by 2005 and by the Australians' pre-eminence either side of it, and throughout the Sixties when draws were almost obligatory it would have been seen as the height of excitement. It was in any case entirely forgivable because the first four days brought little more than two days' play. In effect, therefore, Australia were saving the match on the third day – and only eight per cent of all Tests scheduled to last five days have ended that soon.

England definitely fancied their chances. Having taken two wickets the previous evening they were well aware that two more early on would open the match up. None came in the first hour, however, and Andrew Strauss made the mistake of expecting too much of Flintoff, the hero of Lord's, rather than entrusting the ball to Jimmy Anderson, so potent in the first innings here.

Anderson was summoned only after Flintoff had toiled for seven overs and struck immediately when Shane Watson drove at a straight one. Before lunch Mike Hussey had gone in similar fashion, lured into reaching for a ball from Stuart Broad. Hussey had done enough to rediscover form, not quite sufficient to make Australia safe.

But England needed quick wickets after lunch and they never looked like coming. Clarke, as he has been all summer, was splendid. He moves with the elegance of a ballroom dancer and his strokeplay is crisp and precise. North is more functional but he has made everything of his late call to Australia's colours.

Long before the evening session the match was realistically out of England's reach and it seemed that the day would be called not long after both men reached their second centuries of the series. North was in a rush for his and plundered an over from Ravi Bopara for three successive fours, with the best three strokes of his innings: a back-foot straight drive, a cover drive and a deftly placed cut.

A slashed drive at the other end off Broad seemed certain to give him his 16th four and his hundred, but Anderson, in the unconventional position of wide fly slip, took off to his right and plucked a stunning catch.

Clarke was suddenly much more circumspect. He too might have gone on 96, the victim of another superb catch from Anderson behind the wicket, but Ravi Bopara had overstepped and a no-ball was duly called.

The teams shook hands on the draw as soon as Clarke pulled his 192nd ball for four, his 14th, in Bopara's next over. England had needed eight wickets in the day but had taken only three on a benign pitch. They lacked zing if there ain't no swing.

England will be desperate to keep what they have but Headingley may not be the place to protect but to be bold. Above all, they must continue to believe they can beat Australia and some of that belief may have been drained yesterday.

Turning points: How the action unfolded at Edgbaston

*11.43am: Reality check for the England fans

Mike Hussey biffs a loose one from Graeme Swann for four and Australia take the lead. Once pumped up, the crowd sense impending difficulties.

*12.05pm: Anderson gets in the swing Jimmy

Anderson, the first innings swing hero, at last joins the attack after Andrew Flintoff's seven wicketless overs. He strikes with his sixth ball when Shane Watson nicks a straight one and England have renewed hope.

*12.43pm: Broad sword

England's cup o'erfloweth. Barely has Stuart Broad joined the attack for the first time in the innings than Hussey has been drawn into the shot outside off and edged a drive.

Session: England

*3.14pm: Crying game

Graham Onions is handed the second new ball. It is England's last faint hope of being able to carve out victory as Michael Clarke and Marcus North look immovable.

*3.32pm: Clarke of the course

Swann misfields at cover and Clarke scampers a single to reach fifty, as he has done in each match of the series. He is impressive today.

Session: Australia

*5.11pm: Flying high

Anderson dives to his right, all but flying, and grabs a drive which races off North's bat to fly slip. Possible contender for catch of the series which he virtually repeats five minutes later at the other end only for Ravi Bopara to have overstepped.

*5.51pm: Mission accomplished

Clarke pulls four, reaches his hundred and the match ends in an utterly untypical, unthrilling draw.

Session: Australia