England regain control of test
Five wickets required to regain the Ashes
Andrew Flintoff at last had a telling impact on his final Test as he ran out Australia captain Ricky Ponting with a direct hit to keep England on course to win the Ashes at the Oval today.
Flintoff, set to retire at the conclusion of this match, had so far failed to mark his last appearance with a major contribution as a batsman or bowler.
But just when it seemed Ponting (66) and Michael Hussey may be dismantling the script which sees England reclaim the urn, Flintoff came up with a moment of brilliance in the field to end their third-wicket stand of 127.
In an instant, Flintoff was once again acknowledging a hero's applause from a near 25,000 fourth-day sell-out crowd - and within an over his captain Andrew Strauss had come up with an alert piece of fielding too to run out Michael Clarke by the narrowest of margins, for a duck.
That made Australia 220 for four, in pursuit of an improbable world-record 546 to win - with Hussey (54no) needing to play the innings of a lifetime, and receive major support from his team-mates, to keep England at bay.
Ponting and Hussey had dug in to defy England for more than two-and-a-half hours, after two early wickets had raised home hopes.
Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann, the wreckers of Australia's first innings, each struck again as two wickets fell in four balls on a sunny fourth morning.
After an opening stand of 86, both protagonists were gone lbw - Simon Katich pushing forward and padding up to Swann and Shane Watson pinned on the back foot by Broad.
Ponting and Hussey therefore came together without a run between them. Australia still need only a draw to retain the urn but victory to take the npower series 2-1 and therefore protect the number one Test ranking they have held since its inception.
When Ponting came to the crease, a standing ovation replaced the boos the Australia captain has had to endure from the home support all summer.
In what may be his last Test innings against England in this country, the 34-year-old was a study in concentration and determination - likewise his partner, on an increasingly dusty pitch which has had its critics ever since the clatter of Australian wickets on day two.
It did not behave unduly, however, given the wear and tear - and Australia's third-wicket pair were able to keep out each of England's big weapons.
Swann and Broad were replaced by James Anderson and Flintoff, as mid-innings reverse swing came into the equation on the abrasive surface - but it was not until the 40th over of the day that Strauss threw the ball to Steve Harmison.
There were occasional scares for both batsmen on a wicket which has taken spin throughout and never demonstrated especially even pace from the outset.
But before Flintoff and Strauss' huge moments in the field, it was Swann who twice came closest to a breakthrough - both batsmen narrowly escaping the clutches of Paul Collingwood at first slip.
On 21, Hussey edged an off-break low and fast through Collingwood's legs before he could get his hands into position; then after lunch, Ponting had 51 when he nicked one which landed on the fielder's boot - the rebound looping agonisingly out of reach.
Ponting had hit eight fours from 76 balls for his 50 - and soon after the century stand came up in 31 overs, Hussey too passed his first major milestone from 123 deliveries.
England were beginning to wonder where a wicket was coming from by the time Flintoff struck.
Strauss then saw off Clarke, via a third umpire ruling after a flick to leg at Swann had unluckily ricocheted off short-leg back to leg-slip - from where the England captain somehow conveyed the ball on to the stumps with the batsman only just out of his ground.
More to follow.
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