Australia consolidate

Australia began day two searching for quick wickets and an England total below 350. The danger was always going to be the quick scoring of Geraint Jones, who had managed 85 at Trent Bridge to remove Australian hopes of a moderate first innings score for England.

Brett Lee did the job for his captain by removing the England keeper-batsman almost immediately. Jones struck a wide Lee delivery to the cover boundary, but he couldn’t keep out a quick and straight one next up as the ball beat him for pace and came back slightly off the seam to hit the top of off-stump. Australian hopes of a quick finish to the innings were boosted by the early breakthrough, but were eventually quashed in the remarkable period of play that followed. Matthew Hoggard spent three quarters of an hour at the crease and kept out 36 balls whilst batting with Ashley Giles, despite seeming virtually unable to lay bat on ball. Glenn McGrath in particular beat the bat at will with movement off the seam and accurate bowling, but the edge eluded him. Giles was solid at the other end and kept the scoreboard moving along as the Australians grew increasingly frustrated. When McGrath finally did get the edge of Hoggard’s bat he still didn’t pick up the wicket as Ricky Ponting spilt a tough chance at second slip, and McGrath’s shocking luck continued as later in the same over he got an audible edge from Giles and Gilchrist hung on to a regulation chance only to have umpire Rudi Koertzen stand his ground, unmoved.

The incensed Australians finally got their breakthrough to end a 20 run partnership soon afterwards, when a perfect slower ball from McGrath caused Hoggard to loop the ball to mid-off where Martyn took the catch. Steve Harmison then stode to the crease and made his intentions clear immediately as he attempted a pull off McGrath first ball and was nearly caught at midwicket by Katich. His next few shots were much better though, and he cracked an important 20 and sent the Australian seamers to the boundary several times. As if to compensate Australia for their unlucky morning, Billy Bowden made the second umpiring error of the morning, but it favoured the tourists. Ashley Giles, concentrating hard on ending his bunny status against Warne, got a big stride in and was struck on the pad by a regulation leg-break, and Bowden raised his finger despite the fact that the ball would clearly have missed off-stump.

England’s innings was closed at 373 after a productive morning, and with clouds coming in and a new ball Matthew Hoggard had early wickets in mind in an excellent spell before lunch. Australia managed to survive the seven overs before the break though, despite a couple of close calls.

After lunch, Justin Langer launched into action with some attacking strokeplay. He appeared comfortable in fairly benign conditions on a bouncy wicket reminiscent of Australia, and kept the scoreboard ticking over without incident. Hayden at the other end had come to The Oval playing for his position in the side, and went about his innings in a way which suggested that he knew it. He left the ball whenever possible, and when the Matthew Hoggard inswingers that had been his downfall so many times this series came he watched them closely and played them late. It took almost 50 deliveries for Hayden to strike his first boundary.

With England reduced to four front-line bowlers for this test, Justin Langer clearly planned to take Ashley Giles out of the equation. The left-arm spinner’s first over was greeted with two massive sixes as Langer danced down the pitch and smashed him over mid-on and midwicket. The first real scare for the Australian openers came from the most unlikely source, when Paul Collingwood arrived for his first spell of the series. He got two deliveries in a row to bounce sharply at Langer outside off stump, and the second one caught the edge of the bat and flew high and fast to first slip. Marcus Trescothick was standing wide of the standard first slip position and had to move a long way to his right, and spilt a difficult catch. Giles too provided a scare with a very close shout against Langer, but it was judged that the ball would have missed leg-stump.

Matthew Hayden’s confidence and footwork improved the longer he spent at the crease, and when the tea break arrived with the score on 112 Australia seemed to be getting on top of the English attack. The cloud cover increased during the break though, and when Langer and Hayden were offered the light immediately afterwards they shocking accepted it without hesitation. As it happened, the light situation did not improve for over an hour, and by then the rain had arrived and play was called off for the day.

Australia would be pleased with their best opening stand of the series, but time is quickly becoming a factor, with only three days left and Australia needing a victory. England’s bowlers seem to be struggling and a lot will depend tomorrow on the performance of Andrew Flintoff with the reverse-swinging ball, and without an early breakthough an Australian first innings lead for the first time since Lords seems a likely possibility.

Score Summary

England 373
Andrew Strauss 129, Andrew Flintoff 72
Shane Warne 6/122, Glenn McGrath 2/72

Australia 0/112
Justin Langer 75*, Matthew Hayden 32*

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