Swann's late strike has Australia stretched to limit
Australia 263 & 88-2 England 376
Monday 03 August 2009
Whisper it quietly, but by the middle of next week England might have recaptured the Ashes. They will need a following wind, they must keep playing hard-nosed cricket and it would help too if the odd umpiring break continued to go their way.
The signs are emerging more regularly than the green shoots of economic recovery, however, that the home side can prevail against Australia who at present are doing no more than hanging on in there. England forged a lead of 113 when play resumed on the fourth day of the third npower Test, and by its end were still 25 runs ahead with two of the tourists' second innings wickets in their bag.
Australia, it is abundantly clear, will be grateful simply to escape from Birmingham with a draw, as England did in Cardiff, and hope to regroup in Leeds at the end of this week. All four results remain possible in the match – and where these two sides are concerned, of course precedent tells us that anything is indeed possible – but Australia can win only by benefiting from an opposition cock-up and England are now riding on a wave of self-belief.
This was first indicated by the conviction and panache with which they overcame the day's early setbacks and then by the significant incisions they made into Australia's second innings. They might have preferred a third wicket, of course they would have done, and a fourth and a fifth after that, but they have Australia fighting for their lives.
The wickets went to Graham Onions, who sent one across Simon Katich, and to Graeme Swann, who bamboozled Ricky Ponting with a prodigious turn. The makeshift opener Shane Watson responded as he had in the first innings, with a combination of flamboyance and resolution. He does not much look like an opening batsman but he has served Australia's purpose here – though he was found desperately wanting with the ball earlier in the day. Mike Hussey avoided a king pair by the skin of Onions' finger as the bowler tried in vain to make the ground for a catch.
There was a flamboyant spirit about England's batting in the afternoon that implied their positive state of mind. Equally, the limitations of their opponents' bowling attack were exposed. When England lost three top-order wickets much more quickly than they would have liked after play eventually got under way at noon there was the chance that Australia would have a first-innings lead. A different Australian side would have ensured it.
Almost inevitably the centrepiece of England's surge when the sun came out was Andrew Flintoff. He hobbled throughout his innings but his rumbustiousness was unquenchable, his determination to leave his mark on this series quite remarkable.
The side had slipped to 168 for five when Flintoff came in and the ball was moving about alarmingly, as it had done two days earlier when rain so rudely interrupted. A cautious start seemed to be giving way to something more promising for England when Andrew Strauss, who had looked in serene touch, top edged a hook.
On the stroke of lunch Paul Collingwood essayed an unwise drive that ended in the hands of second slip. Not long after it, Ian Bell was at last given out leg before wicket by Rudi Koertzen to Mitchell Johnson. It was all that Johnson deserved on a day when he at last began to look the bowler that Australia promised he was when they arrived.
Bowling closer to the stumps Johnson found his rhythm early, happier bowling to right handers and finding some swing. Bell was a curate's egg of crisp driving and uncertain footwork against the swinging ball. Koertzen had already spared him twice – and he had looked out two days earlier – but Bell all but walked on this occasion.
For a short while, Flintoff and Matt Prior were hesitant. But once they decided that hesitation does not win Test matches, let alone the Ashes, they blazed away. What a sight Flintoff was, bludgeoning the ball at times with all the freedom of spirit that has embodied his cricket yet struggling to move between the wickets.
Prior was possibly more fluent and the pair put on 89 in 79 balls for the sixth wicket. It was hereabouts that Australia looked in real trouble. They were waiting for a second new ball to be available, their primary bowlers were grazing in the long grass and they had to fiddle a few overs. England duly plundered them and 23 runs came off Shane Watson's three overs.
When Prior played a rather ungainly hook which looped to mid-on, Flintoff went merrily on. Finding support from Stuart Broad, who is batting somewhat more adeptly than he is bowling for the moment, he went to 50 and gave England the lead with a hoisted drive to long on for six and a disdainful sweep for four off Nathan Hauritz.
Although Flintoff was out rather tamely, gloving to slip a ball that he was attempting to leave after making 74 from 79 balls, the new ball brought more misery for Australia. Broad and Swann stood up and hit the ball hard and long and when the lead reached three figures, England's advantage was considerable. If Johnson had surmounted many of his previous difficulties (and he was given a sympathetic greeting by the crowd) his use of the new ball was not particularly convincing. Australia's most successful bowler was Ben Hilfenhaus, who gained some prodigious away movement and is now the leading wicket taker in the series.
There was no movement at the start of Australia's innings which tended to nullify England's great hope Jimmy Anderson, who has become the king of the swingers, an Edgbaston VIP. It looked as though Australia's resolution would deny them until the close but the introduction of Onions changed matters.
Bowling wicket to wicket, he was a different proposition. As indeed was Swann. After his early scare Hussey batted with growing aplomb. Australia may be going but they do not look like going quickly or quietly.
Edgbaston timeline: How the action unfolded
*12.00pm: Game on After the loss of a day and an hour, play finally resumes. England do not add to their score until the fourth over.
*12.14am: Rudi awakening Ian Bell on 30 survives (another) perilously close shout for leg before, this time from Peter Siddle, the reprieve again being granted by Rudi Koertzen. Replays suggest it was hitting middle half-way up, Aussies everywhere suspect a conspiracy.
*12.45pm: Fans' fave All eyes are on Mitchell Johnson, right, as he enters the attack for the first time today. He receives a hearty cheer and to the astonishment of all is right on the button.
*3.25pm: Fred's back England, on the rampage after lunch, level the scores and then take the lead with a six and four in successive balls from Andrew Flintoff. He reaches his first Test 50 since Mohali last winter.
*4.01pm: Glove actually Flintoff out in strange fashion, trying to leave a ball which gloves him and goes to slip after stands of 89 in 79 balls with Matt Prior and 52 in 55 balls with Stuart Broad.
*5.24pm: Broad attack Stuart Broad continues England's assault with an entertaining 55 before he is the final wicket to fall, leaving the tourists trailing by 113 after the first innings.
*6.28pm: Katich caught Simon Katich edges behind off Graham Onions as England make the breakthrough in Australia's second innings.
*6.36pm: Ponting's gone During a fabulous over by Graeme Swann, the Australian captain is given a reprieve when facing a strong lbw shout, before being sent back to the pavilion the next ball when bowled through the gate.
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