Harmison delivers ball of his life to snatch victory as defeat beckons

ENGLAND 407 & 182
AUSTRALIA 308 & 279
England win by 2 runs

And indeed there was. An England victory had appeared to be a formality when Michael Vaughan led his side out at 10.25am yesterday. His team, following Andrew Flintoff's heroics on Saturday, required just two wickets to complete a memorable win over Australia and draw level in the five-Test series. Australia, meanwhile, required a further 107 runs.

Yet it appeared as though the world champions were about to pull off one of the most remarkable victories in the history of Test cricket when Stephen Harmison ran into bowl from the Pavilion End at 12.10pm. Shane Warne, Brett Lee and Michael Kasprowicz had added 104 runs to Australia's overnight total of 175 for 8 and the tourists were only three runs away from all but retaining the Ashes.

England's bowling throughout the morning session had been pretty disappointing. Flintoff and Harmison were aggressive but had bowled too short and runs were being conceded at an alarming rate.

But then, with only three runs required for victory, Harmison pitched a short ball on the right spot. Kasprowicz took evasive action and, in an attempt to protect his body, pushed his hands and bat towards the ball. The ball struck him on the gloves and lobbed towards the England wicket-keeper Geraint Jones.

The glovework of Jones has been questioned by many since he dropped two catches at Lord's, yet on this occasion he moved to his left, dived forward and scooped up a low but crucial catch. Kasprowicz looked down the wicket hoping the umpire, Billy Bowden, would not give him out but he saw the finger rise and sank to his knees.

England's fielders and a partisan crowd went wild. Jones was ecstatic, and started gesturing to a section of Australian spectators who had been goading him, while the rest of the team ran around like headless chickens. Eventually they came together, swamping Harmison and Jones.

How England and this Ashes series needed that wicket. Vaughan admitted there would have been no way back if Australia had moved 2-0 up in the series. Defeat would have left England needing to win the final three Tests, the next of which starts at Old Trafford on Thursday.

The win, however, keeps England's dreams of regaining the Ashes alive. Yet for a large proportion of the 110 minutes of play yesterday, this did not appear the case. From the opening over of the day, Vaughan had positioned at least four fielders on the boundary.

The England captain was hoping this tactic would prevent Warne and Lee from gaining any momentum. It failed. Warne struck the first boundary in Harmison's third over, which went for 13. With two or three catchers around the bat and three or four fielders on the rope, there were plenty of singles available, which were gratefully taken by Australia.

Ashley Giles was introduced into the attack but he failed to create chances or check the scoring. Warne and Lee had taken Australia to within 62 runs of their target when Flintoff fired a ball behind Warne's legs. The bails fell off and initially everybody thought the ball had bowled the spinner behind his legs. But replays showed the ball had missed leg stump and the bails had been removed by Warne, whose right boot had struck off stump as he jumped inside the line of the delivery.

Edgbaston erupted and Kasprowicz, a man with a top score of 25 and a batting average of 10.52, stood between England and victory.

Crowds on the Sunday of a Test tend to drift in during the morning session yet 21,000 spectators sat glued to their seats. The England supporters were in fine voice. "Super Freddie Flintoff," they sang in the Eric Hollies Stand as England's talisman roared in, and Lee felt the force of Flintoff when he was struck painfully on the right hand.

Flintoff's ability to bowl had been doubted on Saturday when he injured his left shoulder batting. The all-rounder received treatment before continuing with his innings. It was just as well he did. Lee and Warne - whose 10-wicket haul took his Test wicket tally to 599 - were wreaking havoc at the time and England looked set to be bowled out for an insufficient score.

But a last-wicket partnership of 51 between Flintoff and Simon Jones allowed England to set Australia the sizeable target of 282. Australia looked set to knock off these runs until Flintoff took three wickets in a furious spell of bowling.

Modern Test cricket is no longer a place for spectators who want to sit back, relax and gently while away the hours, and the tension continued to rise as Australia's last pair added runs yesterday.

Kasprowicz clipped Flintoff for four and Giles was slogged for 13 in an over. Drinks were taken with Australia having added 77 runs for the loss of one wicket in 13.2 mesmerising overs.

Harmison replaced Flintoff before returning immediately at the City End, but runs kept coming. England did not help their cause by conceding 40 extras and Simon Jones dropped Kasprowicz at third man when 14 runs were needed.

Flintoff fired the next ball wide down the leg side. It was a no-ball that went for four byes, reducing the target to nine, and many at the ground thought that was it.

Six singles followed before Harmison produced possibly the most important ball of his career to keep this Ashes series alive. Off we go to Manchester.

Manic Sunday: Key moments

* 10.50am Warne and Lee take 13 off one Steve Harmison over.

* 11.08

Warne steps on his stumps with 62 runs still needed.

* 11.40

Four byes off Harmison and Australia's target is now below 20.

* 11.56

Kasprowicz dropped by Simon Jones at third man. Next ball, a no-ball, flies for four byes. Nine needed.

* 12.09

Harmison bowls the 21st over. Lee takes a single, Kasprowicz keeps out the second ball but can't avoid the third. Game over.

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