Fight, says Fred

Flintoff calls for courage as England's rain dance keeps them in touching distance of the Ashes amid brilliant Aussie fightback
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The Independent Online

England, who had three decisions turned down yesterday that they might have been granted by umpires on another day, must do as their talisman, Flintoff, said if they are to avoid defeat. "We have turned in so many performances in this series and now we just have to it one more time," he said.

The tourists, 2-1 behind, will look to score runs quickly today and gain a lead of at least 100, perhaps more. They will make their judgement about the course of the match on the state of the pitch. If, for a moment, they think it is wearing, they could well declare and ask Shane Warne, their champion leg spinner, to weave a spell. That is unquestionably what England will fear most having come so far in their great quest.

Rain helped England's cause yesterday, costing more than 50 overs in the day, which counterbalanced the decisions that went against them. First, the start was delayed by 30 minutes and there were three more interruptions before bad light brought a close to proceedings just before 6.30pm. By then both their beleaguered opening batsmen, Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden had scored centuries. Their first-wicket partnership of 185, their 14th of three figures, had given Australia precisely the platform they desired.

Langer chopped on to Stephen Harmison but the only other wicket to fall was that of Ricky Ponting, who steered Flintoff to gully. Three appeals were dismissed. Langer survived an lbw shout to the day's first ball, Ponting might have been caught at short leg and Damien Martyn, who has had his share of duff decisions, might consider himself fortunate that he was judged not to have glanced behind.

All England could do between rain dances was operate a policy of damage limitation. They needed wickets, but they had to balance that with preventing Australia from scoring too quickly. The disappointing first innings total of 373 after winning the toss had changed all projections.

The debatable decision to select seven batsman instead of a fifth specialist bowler might work in their favour. They would have missed the bowler yesterday had it been a full day, but they may need the comfort of the batsman more if they have to save the match and the Ashes beginning sometime after lunch today.

Flintoff knows he is engaged in the struggle of his life but he retains his sense of humour. He was asked if England would settle for a draw, their only hope now. A smile played round his lips. "Probably," he said.