For over after over after over, Graeme Swann wheeled away on the fourth day of the second Test here. This was his moment and his stage, the best spin bowler in the world destined to put England ahead in the Ashes. He was operating from the Cathedral End at the Adelaide Oval and occasionally he might have glanced in the direction of the great spire and offered up a prayer.
It all went much more smoothly than at Brisbane but then it could hardly have gone rougher. There, Australia clambered into him, quite determined to knock both him off his length and the smile off his face. It was their Swann is an ugly duckling policy. They were living a fairy tale.
Swann had conditions in his favour, a surface that had cut up, the hint of a breeze and his reputation to consider. Andrew Strauss threw him the ball for the 10th over of Australia's innings on the fourth day and did not take it off him again until the 78th. There was a lunch interval and a tea interval and a break of an almost and hour for rain but that was it.
Swann, it was being made clear, had to be the ultimate architect of victory. England were an unfathomable 375 ahead after batting on for 41 minutes, the biggest margin for a touring side in Australia for 36 years. Their total read 620 for 5 declared, their largest total in Australia for 82 years and their largest anywhere for 20. Kevin Pietersen had made his career best score of 227, there had been four partnerships of above 100 in the innings for the first time since 1938, four of their batsmen were averaging more than 100 for the series.
It was all going one way and now it was Swann's turn. Anyone who thought that Australia would simply oblige and fold up quickly did not know Australians in general and Simon Katich in particular. They sprang out of the blocks as an act of defiance. Their openers, the hobbling Katich, would not be cowed.
Katich was in extreme discomfort from his swollen Achilles. But he had refused all offers of help. The idea that Mike Hussey open in his stead had been politely declined. It might have been the best thing for the team since Katich could hardly run and runs were missed, but perhaps he wanted to set an example for the team. Everybody said how tough Katich was and from the descriptions of his stubbornness it was possible to imagine him saying: "Mate, it's only one foot and I've still got another one, cut it off and I'll get on with it."
The openers had put on 84 and reduced the lead to below 300 – an important psychological barrier?– when Swann struck in his 11th over. It would have been handy for England if he could have returned to his happy knack of taking a wicket in the first over of a spell but the 11th had to do.
It was the sort of dismissal that is taught on the first day at off-spinners' school. Swann drew Katich into a forward prop, the ball turned and took the faintest of edges. Katich knew because he was wanting.
Then he dismissed Ricky Ponting, a wicket which will always produce the urge to throw a party in the Australia captain's opponents. Ponting may be in slight decline but the damage he has inflicted over the years has not exactly lessened the desire to see the back of him. It was a classic piece of bowling, the ball held its own rather than turning as the batsman expected.
At slip, Paul Collingwood took a stunning catch low to his left. That seemed to embody England's wonderful work in the field, which has been a feature of the Ashes so far. They also insist on marking each splendid intervention in the field – whether a catch or a stop or a throw – with a pat on the bottom, sometimes after the patter has run 20 yards to deliver his congratulations. Steady on chaps, this cannot be good for bottoms.
"I just had to bowl better than I did in the first Test," Swann said. "My mother could have beaten me all over the place on that first morning at Brisbane. I was dreadful. During parts of my spell I was very happy about my bowling but there were little pockets where I bowled like a 12-year-old which was disappointing in the first game of an Ashes series."
Swann did not, however, strike again and although Steve Finn, in an excellent spell from the River End, removed Watson with one that cut away, they had to wait 33 overs for their next reward. They were without Stuart Broad, who spent periods off the field with a stomach muscle strain. Michael Clarke and Hussey, with gumption, skill and some fortune, put on 108 more runs.
At last in desperation and in the search for inspiration Swann was removed from the attack after 34 overs. So was the penultimate day of the Test bookended by Pietersen. He had begun with a dash and while he added only 14 runs to his overnight score he reached his best Test score. And then, after Swann had bowled 32 overs, his fingers sore because of gripping and twisting the wet ball after the storm, Strauss turned to Pietersen.
With the second ball of his second over, the last of the day, he got one to bounce that found a thick inside edge of Clarke's bat, went off his thigh and looped to Alastair Cook at short leg. The umpire, Tony Hill, gave him not out as he had given him out on 67. Earlier, Clarke had asked for a review and rightly won a reprieve; now England lodged an appeal that was upheld. Clarke atoned later by tweeting his apology for not walking. But justice had already been done.
James Lawton, Peter Roebuck, pages 46&47
Adding up the numbers
* England's first-innings declaration with a lead of 375 is the largest held by a touring side in Australia since New Zealand's draw in Sydney in 1974.
* England's 620 for 5 is their second highest total in Australia – their best was 636 in Sydney in 1928. It is their fifth highest ever against Australia; England's largest was 903 for 7 dec at The Oval in 1938.
* Kevin Pietersen's 227 was his best Test score, improving on the 226 he hit against West Indies at Headingley in 2008.
* Since the start of the second innings at The Gabba, England's batsmen have produced stands of 188, 329*, 3, 173, 180, 101, 116 and 52*.
* England batting averages (by close, day four)
Name Mtchs Inns Runs HS 100 Av Cook 2* 3 450 235* 2 225Bell 2* 2 144 76 0 144 P'sen 2* 2 270 227 1 135Trott 2* 3 242 135* 1 121 Strauss 2* 3 111 110 1 37Prior 2* 2 27 27* 0 27C'wood 2* 2 46 42 0 23
* Australia bowling averages (by close, day four)
Name Mtchs Overs Runs Wkts Av
Johnson 1 42 170 0 ---
Hilfenhaus1 51 142 1 142
Bollinger 1* 29 130 1 130
North 2* 38 110 1 110
Doherty 2* 75.5 306 3 102
Watson 2* 46 140 2 70
Siddle 2* 70 265 6 44
Harris 1* 29 84 2 42
Third Test – Perth 16-20 December
Fourth Test – Melbourne 26-30 Dec
Fifth Test – Sydney 3-7 January
Day Four scoreboard
Adelaide (Fourth day of five): Australia trail England by 137 runs with 6 second-innings wickets remaining
Australia won toss
Australia First Innings 245 (Hussey 93, Haddin 56, Watson 51, Anderson 4-51)
ENGLAND First Innings
Overnight 551-4 (Cook 148, Trott 78)
K Pietersen c Katich b Doherty 227
308 balls 33 fours 1 six
I Bell not out 68
97 balls 8 fours 1 six
†M Prior not out 27
21 balls 2 fours
Extras (b 8, lb 13, w 8) 29
Total (5 wkts dec, 152 overs) 620
Fall: 1-3 (Strauss), 2-176 (Trott), 3-351 (Cook), 4-452 (Collingwood), 5-568 (Pietersen).
Did Not Bat: G P Swann, S C J Broad, J M Anderson, S T Finn.
Bowling: R Harris 29-5-84-2 (w1) (6-3-14-0, 7-1-20-0, 3-0-4-1, 3-0-13-0, 6-1-22-1, 4-0-11-0), D Bollinger 29-1-130-1 (w2) (4-0-15-1, 2-0-10-0, 4-0-27-0, 3-0-17-0, 2-0-7-0, 5-0-23-0, 3-0-15-0, 4-1-7-0, 2-0-9-0), P Siddle 30-3-121-0 (w1) (3-0-17-0, 4-1-8-0, 4-1-9-0, 5-1-16-0, 5-0-23-0, 5-0-27-0, 1-0-3-0, 3-0-18-0), S Watson 19-7-44-1 (5-2-12-0, 9-3-19-0, 5-2-13-1), X Doherty 27-3-158-1 (1-0-2-0, 6-2-27-0, 3-0-17-0, 5-1-23-0, 5-0-30-0, 4-0-20-0, 3-0-38-1), M North 18-0-62-0 (1-0-4-0, 2-0-3-0, 7-0-21-0, 8-0-34-0).
Progress Fourth day: 600 in 150.3 overs. Bell 50: 87 balls, 7 fours.
AUSTRALIA Second Innings
S Watson c Strauss b Finn 57
141 balls 10 fours
S Katich c Prior b Swann 43
85 balls 6 fours
*R Ponting c Collingwood b Swann 9
19 balls 2 fours
M Clarke c Cook b Pietersen 80
139 balls 11 fours
M Hussey not out 44
92 balls 4 fours 1 six
Extras (b 5) 5
Total (4 wkts, 79.2 overs) 238
Fall: 1-84 (Katich), 2-98 (Ponting), 3-134 (Watson), 4-238 (Clarke).
To Bat: M J North, †B J Haddin, R J Harris, X J Doherty, P M Siddle, D E Bollinger.
Bowling: J Anderson 15-3-70-0 (5-1-35-0, 5-2-9-0, 5-0-26-0), S Broad 11-3-32-0 (4-1-9-0, 4-2-2-0, 3-0-21-0), G Swann 34-10-72-2 (one spell), S Finn 14-2-41-1 (4-1-17-0, 7-1-17-1, 3-0-7-0), P Collingwood 4-0-13-0 (one spell), K Pietersen 1.2-0-5-1 (one spell).
Progress Fourth day: 50 in 12.0 overs, Lunch 78-0 (Watson 35, Katich 42, 25.0 overs), 100 in 36.1 overs, 150 in 53.5 overs, Tea 160-3 (Clarke 36, Hussey 14, 56.0 overs), 200 in 66.0 overs, Close of Play 238-4. Watson 50: 125 balls, 9 fours, Clarke 50: 86 balls, 8 fours.
Umpires: M Erasmus & A L Hill
Match referee: J J Crowe