Swann's late strike has Australia stretched to limit

Australia 263 & 88-2 England 376

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.

Session: Australia

*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.

Session: England

*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.

Session: England

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat