England head for match-winning lead in second Ashes test
Matt Prior signalled England's determination to learn from their mistakes by leading a ruthless drive towards a match-winning lead in the second Ashes Test.
England's wicketkeeper-batsman hit a superb 61 off only 42 balls and typified the desire to capitalise on their dominance over Australia having failed to do so earlier in the match.
Prior's brilliant innings, which included nine boundaries, helped England progress into a daunting 521-run lead at the end of the third day at Lord's after reaching a commanding 311 for six.
His rapid-fire contribution set the tone for a fast accumulation of runs to make amends from their disappointing first innings display, when they failed to build on a 196-run opening stand and were dismissed for 425.
Already Australia know they must eclipse the world record total for a final innings to win a Test of 418 for seven recorded by West Indies against them in Antigua in 2002-3 if they are to overhaul England's lead in the final two days.
They will also be aware they may need nearly 200 runs more than the highest successful winning final innings total at Lord's of 344 for one set by West Indies against England in 1984 to secure a shock victory.
But a more realistic objective is to bat out the remaining two days of the Test and salvage a draw despite being dominated for the majority of the match - just as England did during the opening Test in Cardiff.
Australia had begun the day looking for damage limitation having slumped to 156 for eight overnight and enjoyed frustrating England's attack for a further 14 overs with Nathan Hauritz and Peter Siddle forging a 44-run stand off 64 balls.
Their resistance was broken by Durham seamer Graham Onions, who was contentiously preferred to county team-mate Steve Harmison, during a spell of two for nine in his three overs to leave Australia with a 210-run deficit.
Given the option of enforcing the follow on, England captain Andrew Strauss chose to bat on in good conditions in an attempt to score quick runs, increase the pressure on Australia and set the tone of intent.
That was certainly demonstrated during a blistering opening stand with Alastair Cook of 61 off only 85 balls which signalled England's intentions to score as many runs as possible in a short space of time.
The vibrant stand was halted after lunch with off-spinner Hauritz continuing a theme for Cook in this series when he was given lbw playing across the line while Strauss fell in his next over when he drove at a delivery which turned out of the footmarks and was caught at slip.
It brought together Ravi Bopara and Kevin Pietersen, two batsmen struggling for different reasons, and neither found their fluency during a 73-run partnership which looked fragile throughout its existence.
Essex batsman Bopara has struggled for runs ever since the opposition changed from a steady diet of the West Indies to the more challenging Australians and never looked comfortable during his innings of 27 spanning more than two hours at the crease.
He was given a reprieve on nine when he edged Siddle straight to Australian captain Ricky Ponting, who put down a regulation chance, and on 19 pulled Mitchell Johnson from outside off-stump to Hauritz at mid-on but survived when third umpire Nigel Llong ruled the catch had not carried.
His determined if not fluent knock ended when he pushed Hauritz to Simon Katich at short leg shortly after tea to end a painful partnership with Pietersen of 73 which included only six boundaries between them.
Pietersen seemed to struggle more on fitness grounds than any question about his talent or temperament and noticeably limped throughout his innings, raising fresh concerns about his ability to last the course of the npower series following his long-standing Achilles problems.
He fell six overs after Bopara with an inside edge off Siddle which flew to wicketkeeper Brad Haddin to set the stage for Prior's thrilling contribution to England's daunting lead.
Aided by the swift and busy running between the wickets of Paul Collingwood, Prior looked at home from the start and dominated their 86-run stand off only 74 balls which threatened to visibly drained Australia's morale.
Prior looked so composed at the crease he seemed certain to emulate his century on his Test debut at Lord's two years ago against West Indies, but called for a quick two after pushing Ben Hilfenhaus past point only to be defeated by a direct throw from the deep by Marcus North.
His ovation as he walked back to the Pavillion merged with that given to Andrew Flintoff as he strode out for his final Test innings at Lord's, who responded to the occasion by hitting a quickfire 30 off 27 balls as England closed in on a declaration.
Perhaps influenced by the deteriorating light, Strauss delayed the decision and had it taken out of his hands when rain halted play after Collingwood had edged Siddle behind with 10.4 overs remaining.
England had added 181 runs in just 30.2 overs in the final session and set out their intent, but having been in similar positions against Sri Lanka (2006) and South Africa (2008) and failed to win they will know they still face a major battle before to secure a priceless Ashes lead.
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