Ponting feels Ashes heat

England scent victory after Flintoff's heroics with the bat / Swann removes Australia captain to set up thrilling final day
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The Independent Online

England will go into the final day of the third Test at Edgbaston believing they can not only beat the weather but also defeat Australia and take a 2-0 lead in the Ashes series.

With Ricky Ponting's team set to resume on 88 for two, 25 runs behind, the odds favour a draw. But a possible 98 overs remain and, knowing how quickly the game changed on the second morning of this rain-ravaged contest – with Graham Onions capturing two wickets in two balls – neither side can take anything for granted.

"There's a belief and a quiet confidence, but we know we will have to bowl well if we are going to get them out," said Andrew Flintoff, who is still searching for his first success with the ball in the third Test after making 74 runs with the bat yesterday to take England into a position of strength.

As in their first innings, Australia made a secure start last night before being hit by two hammer blows.

Simon Katich, driving carelessly at Onions, edged a catch behind to end an opening stand of 47. Then, 10 balls later, Ponting was bowled between bat and pad by a Graeme Swann delivery that turned sharply out of the rough.

"Getting Ricky out always gives you a lift because he is probably the best player in the world," said Flintoff. "It was the perfect off-spinner's wicket. There's enough in the pitch for us and we've got an attack that can do it.

"It is going to be a massive first session for both sides. It would be nice to start like we did the other day and if we can put some pressure on Australia we can win a Test. But we've got a lot to do and it's not going to be easy."

There was no shortage of tension yesterday, and no lack of words, either, between several players, right up to the final over when Jimmy Anderson and Shane Watson had plenty to say to each other. Today could be even more pressurised, but Flintoff stressed: "It's competitive out there but there is nothing to worry about."

For the best part of two hours, yesterday looked as though it would be all about people's champion Flintoff adding a century to his heroic five-wicket haul at Lord's in the second Test.

The 31-year-old all-rounder, who will retire from Test cricket at the end of this series and is trying to make it through to the finishing line despite a knee injury, batted beautifully to reach 74 from 79 balls with the help of 10 fours and a six off spinner Nathan Hauritz.

But Australia's slow bowler gained revenge by having Flintoff caught at slip, via a glove, with the batsman playing no shot. When Flintoff had begun his innings it was Australia who fancied their chances of applying pressure when they had the hosts 168 for five, still 95 runs behind. Matt Prior, Flintoff and Stuart Broad combined to put England back on course, however.

When they were all out for 376, England had a lead of 113. And the real drama was still to come.