Victory tantalizingly close for record-breaking England

So many records for England, and so tantalizingly close to victory.

With a wicket on the last ball of the fourth day they are left needing six more to beat Australia in the Second Test and take a crucial 1-0 lead in the Ashes series. Until then rain and a determined rearguard action interrupted their progress on the fourth day.

The home side were 137 behind at the close of the fourth day on 238 for four. The fourth wicket pair of Michael Clarke and Mike Hussey were parted in the 80th over of the innings by a ball from Kevin Pietersen, brought on as England desperately sought another breakthrough. Clarke had defied the turning ball from the Cathedral End for almost three hours and had seen Graeme Swann replaced after a spell of 32 overs.

Hussey was unbeaten on 41. Almost an hour was lost to rain, a welcome breather for Australia after they had fallen to 134 for three. But when the fourth wicket partnership of 104 was broken a draw again looked far away for Australia.

England, dominant from the first over of the match, extended their first innings into its fourth day. After 41 minutes, in which 69 runs were added, they declared at 620 for five, their highest total in Australia for 82 years and their highest anywhere since their 652 for 4 against India at Lord’s in 1990.

The lead of 375 was also the largest achieved by any touring side since England crushed Australia in the dead sixth Test of 1974-75. Australia had one more success in the morning when they had caught Kevin Pietersen caught at slip, though not before he had advanced ferociously to his career best score of 227.

He and Ian Bell took their fifth wicket partnership to 116, the fourth stand of above a century in the innings and the first time England had done that in an innings since 1938. Bell, quite pristine, finished on 68no and is now one of four England batsmen to have an average in the series above hundred. That may be a premature statistic but it is also a telling one.

Australia made a hectic beginning to their reply as Anderson strove too far hard to find the appropriate length. But Simon Katich, who limped through his innings because of severe swelling around an Achilles tendon, eventually edged an off break from Swann behind. Shortly after Ricky Ponting was undone by an arm ball, brilliantly held by Paul Collingwood low at slip.

When Shane Watson was also well held at slip by Strauss off Steve Finn, England were still 245 to the good.

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