England face humiliating fourth Test defeat

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The Independent Online

England were facing a humiliating defeat in the fourth Test after Australia continued their domination to close in on a series-levelling victory.

Even allowing for Headingley's rich tradition for surprising turnarounds, it would take a fightback which would eclipse their 1981 heroics to salvage the match for England after Australia ruthlessly exploited their superiority.

Dismissed for 102 on the opening day - England's lowest score at Headingley for 100 years - they squandered their opportunity to make amends with the ball as Australia powered into a commanding 343-run first-innings lead with Marcus North's second century of the npower series guiding them to 445.

It needed a disciplined and determined reply to give England any chance of avoiding a convincing defeat, which would bring Australia level in the series and set up an Ashes decider in the final Test at the Oval.

Openers Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook provided just that for an hour and a half to forge a 58-run stand, but five wickets in 44 balls ensured England finished the second day in trouble at 82 for five, still 261 runs away from avoiding an innings defeat.

England had resumed the second morning with Australia already holding a 94-run lead on 196 for four, but confident they could improve on their desperate bowling display from the previous evening.

But instead of learning from their mistakes, England continued to bowl short and wide and allowed Australia to make a flying start and set the tone for another disappointing day by adding 110 runs before lunch.

Lacking the inspirational presence of all-rounder Andrew Flintoff because of his persistent knee trouble, England needed another member of their attack to push himself forward and rouse the hosts into a performance.

Stuart Broad claimed career-best figures of six for 91, but even he might have conceded it was not his most impressive bowling performance for England, and was as guilty as the rest of the attack in failing to test Australia's batsmen more in swing-friendly conditions.

Captain Strauss was as frustrated as the rest of Headingley's crowd as Australia, far from being put under pressure at the start of the day, were allowed to add 65 runs in the first 11 overs although leading strike bowler James Anderson was clearly hindered with hamstring trouble.

It was only when Strauss turned to Durham seamer Graham Onions, curiously overlooked for the first 22 overs of the day, that England began to make inroads and he struck in his third over to break Australia's stubborn 152-run fifth wicket stand.

Michael Clarke, already the leading run-scorer in the series, had progressed to within seven runs of his third century when he missed an attempted yorker and was given lbw.

It was not until England took the second new ball seven overs later they began to make further inroads with Steve Harmison inducing Brad Haddin into looping a short ball to short leg.

Already over 200 runs ahead, North combined well with the lower order to further undermine England's shattered morale with Mitchell Johnson demonstrating his capabilities by hitting five boundaries in his 27 before holing out to Broad in the deep.

Broad picked up his fourth victim of the innings in the same over when he knocked back Peter Siddle's off-stump, but Stuart Clark continued Australia's attacking mentality by hammering three sixes and a four in his brilliant 32 off 22 balls.

He was also bowled by Broad attempting another big heave while North, who had given England a demonstration in batting technique to score a determined 110, gave him his sixth wicket in the deep to end the innings.

Perhaps having studied North's approach, both Strauss and Cook played conservative innings and were happy to leave any delivery which did not threaten their stumps as England set about the daunting task of saving the match.

They performed their task superbly for 22 overs until Strauss was beaten by Ben Hilfenhaus' inswinger and fell lbw to spark a stunning collapse of England's top order.

Ravi Bopara, yet to reach 40 in six innings during the series, was perhaps unfortunate to fall next ball when he was given lbw although television replays suggested the inswinger may also have hit his bat.

But panic had set in in England's ranks and two overs later Johnson lured Ian Bell into edging low to second slip and then won an lbw appeal against Paul Collingwood with an inswinger in his next over.

Johnson, now totally transformed from the bowler who struggled to find the right line and length during the opening two Tests, continued England's demise by ending Cook's 138 minutes of defiance when he edged behind in his next over.

England's only consolation from another day struggling to withstand Australia's dominance was that their position could have been even worse after North dropped Matt Prior from the final ball of the day at third slip.