Australia set 423 to win

Such is the pace that the 2005 Ashes series has been played by both sides that even with the weather taking almost a full day out of the Third Test on Saturday, ample time remained for either side to force a win in the two days remaining. England, though, started Day 4 as huge favourites, but early wickets were crucial to their cause.

Australia were 264-7 overnight, still 180 runs behind the home side but with Shane Warne just 22 shy of a maiden test century. Alongside him was the barnacle-like Jason Gillespie on 7, a man whose forward defensive stroke has become the stuff of legend over recent years.

Andrew Flintoff was called upon to get matters under way, and the first runs off the bat came via a nudge by Warne to third man. Gillespie, too, registered his first run of the morning in the same area, playing with soft hands past first slip. Steve Harmison opened from the Brian Statham End and he too conceded singles to both batsmen in turn as Australia continued to fight their way back into the contest.

Simon Jones, so often the man with the golden arm, was called upon to break the partnership, and in the space of two balls, he did just that. A rank long-hop was carved high over cover for the first boundary of the morning to take Warne (90) within ten of that elusive hundred, but the next ball, into the ribs, was pulled straight to Ashley Giles at deep midwicket.

Giles was brought into the attack and immediately Gillespie found the fence with a chipped drive past the sprawling Hoggard at mid off. Every run at this stage was vital with Australia still more than 150 in arrears.

Simon Jones, rapidly building a reputation as a superb bowler with the old ball in his hand, soon had his fifth wicket of the innings – the second five-wicket haul of his career – when Brett Lee (1) pushed out at a classic out-swinger. Trescothick, standing very wide at slip dived to take a very fine catch and reduce Australia to 293-9.

Gillespie brought up the 300 and demonstrated his immense value to the Australian side with the bat, even if he has struggled to cover himself with glory with ball in hand so far this series. Jones pitched fractionally short and Gillespie rocked back before pulling high over midwicket into the packed grandstand for a collectors-item six.

It was his last shot in anger. Jones immediately took the new ball and had a couple of sighters before rapping Gillespie (26) on the pad in front of his stumps. It came as little surprise when Steve Bucknor replied to the bowler’s impassioned appeal in the affirmative and in the process ended the Australian resistance on 302, a deficit of 142 on first innings.

England were faced with an awkward half hour session to negotiate before lunch. Glenn McGrath opened the bowling to Marcus Trescothick who pushed comfortably into the covers for an easy single. Strauss too lost little time in opening his own account, jabbing a single off his pads.

Brett Lee, the pick of the Australian pace bowlers in the first innings, started from the Brian Statham End, and had Strauss in all sorts of trouble with a ball that smashed into the batsman’s grille and inflicted some damage to batsman’s head. It was the second time in the game that Lee had left Strauss with a ringing sensation in his ears.

It was no surprise when McGrath found the edge of Strauss’s bat at the start of the following over, but to the bowler’s frustration the ball fell tantalisingly short of Ricky Ponting at second slip. Meanwhile, at the other end, Lee gave Trescothick a fraction of width and the Somerset opener was on to it in a flash, cracking the ball behind point for the first boundary of the innings.

Strauss profited to the tune of four runs when his tentative prod to a ball outside off stump from Lee bisected Ponting and Warne in the slips. Three balls later, a more controlled dab raced between the two gulleys for another boundary. Warne was introduced just before lunch and immediately extracted prodigious turn from the Old Trafford wicket but Trescothick, playing from the crease, was equal to the task. At the interval, England were 26 without loss, a lead of 168.

The first over after lunch was bowled by Glenn McGrath and he erred on the leg side to both batsmen, conceding easy singles to midwicket before Trescothick dabbed neatly down to third man for three. Brett Lee dropped short and wide to Trescothick and he simply clobbered it to the extra cover boundary. Another half-tracker was smacked through midwicket as Australia continued to bleed runs early in the afternoon session.

Brilliant fielding by Brad Hodge at midwicket saved a boundary when Trescothick was quick to pounce on a McGrath leg-side half-volley, but the seamer squared the Somerset man up with one that lifted before squirting through gulley for a couple. Lee gave Strauss far too much room outside off stump and the bowler watched with hands on hips as the ball sailed high over cover to the fence as even at this early stage England were more or less doing as they pleased.

A beautiful stroke wide of mid-on from a perfectly good ball by McGrath brought Trescothick another boundary and took the England opening partnership past 50 at a rate of knots. Lee went around the wicket to Trescothick and the first delivery was flicked high over slip to take the lead beyond 200 with the openers still at the crease. It really was poor fare from the Australian seamers.

Inevitably, Ponting turned to Shane Warne – and Trescothick went for him straight away, driving a short one to mid on for four. Warne then let out a huge and farcical bellow of an appeal for a bat-pad catch but to the amusement of the crowd received absolutely no support, even from the fielders grouped around Trescothick.

The first wicket, when it fell on 64, came as a complete surprise. Trescothick (41), in total control, played McGrath with soft hands, intent on dropping the ball at his feet and taking a quick single. The ball bounced once and landed right on the top of the off bail. It was Glenn McGrath’s first wicket – and piece of good fortune – in the game.

Michael Vaughan strode out to the middle having scored 166 in the first innings, but the beauty of this game is that they count for nothing second time around. A quick single had his innings under way before he stroked Warne, bowling over the wicket, effortlessly through midwicket for four.

Glenn McGrath went around the wicket to the left-handed Andrew Strauss but strayed onto the batsman’s pads on more than one occasion. He then reverted back to an over the wicket line before beating Vaughan’s defensive push with an absolute beauty. Warne, however, was a different prospect altogether. Vaughan was deceived in the flight and spooned the ball up to Brad Hodge at mid off. The fielder made huge strides and dived forward to grasp the ball – fractionally after it had hit the ground. To the fielder’s eternal credit, he expressed his doubts immediately.

Vaughan threw everything at a short ball from McGrath and was delighted to see it fly high over slip – and even more delighted to see it pass through the hapless Gillespie’s legs on its way to the third man boundary. When the umpires called for the mid-session drinks beneath a leaden sky that was becoming darker by the minute, England had progressed on to 85-1.

The end of McGrath’s long spell seemed in sight when he dropped short to Strauss, and the ball was swatted through midwicket, but the old war-horse simply shrugged his shoulders and put the ball right back on the spot for the remainder of the over, continuing to ask questions of both batsmen.

Ricky Ponting called upon Brett Lee to replace McGrath, seemingly reluctant at this stage to use Jason Gillespie. It was a decision that was totally justified too as Vaughan (14) flicked at one off his hip, sending the ball high in the direction of the fence at fine leg. Brad Hodge, picking the flight up very early, once again made yards to grasp the ball inches inside the boundary. This time, it counted and England were 97-2.

Ian Bell nudged Lee to fine leg for a single, then England declined the offer of bad light in the ever-deepening gloom. Another single by Bell, this time playing Warne from deep in his crease, took the England second innings total to three figures. Bell then narrowly avoided being bowled by Lee, the ball ricocheting off his body and glancing quite firmly off the leg stump but to the disappointment of the bowler the bail, as it had done so often this summer, remained firmly in place.

For all the trials and tribulations suffered by Andrew Strauss this summer, from being ‘worked out’ by McGrath to the number of times he had been hit on the head, he was still batting with some aplomb. When Lee dropped short for not the first time, Strauss was on to it like a flash, hooking the ball high over midwicket for the first maximum of England’s second innings. Bell wall less convincing when he tried to pull the same bowler, the ball falling safe between two converging fielders.

Shane Warne brought an extra close catcher in to Strauss for the final over before tea, and the absence of a man at deep midwicket was all the incentive he required to play the slog-sweep to the fence to progress to a fine half-century indeed. Two balls later, good use of the feet saw the batsman dancing down the track to drive through mid on for another boundary. Another excellent session for England saw them go in for tea in total control on 128-2, a lead of 270 with plenty of fun and games to come, no doubt.

Jason Gillespie was thrown the ball at the start of the evening session, and Strauss was quick to pounce on a little bit of width, carving the ball hard and high over the outstretched hands of the fielder at point. As if Gillespie didn’t have enough to worry about, he then incurred the wrath of umpire Billy Bowden for running on the pitch. England at this stage surprisingly seemed content to pick up what runs were on offer, rather than throw the bat in the quest for quick runs.

Strauss displayed further evidence of his growing self-belief against Australia with a sumptuous drive through extra cover off the bowling of Jason Gillespie, then Bell played a fine back-foot drive to take the England total beyond 150. A veritable plethora of no-balls gave Gillespie and Ponting further cause for concern – at this stage, the bowler looked a shadow of his 1997 vintage.

Bell charged down the track to Warne and the batsman was yards out of his ground when it flew off the edge past Gilchrist’s shoulder for four – a technical chance but one that any keeper would have struggled to lay a glove on. Two balls later, a more convincing boundary came courtesy of a lofted drive over mid on to take England beyond 300 in advance of Australia.

The return of Glenn McGrath brought joy for Ian Bell, courtesy of a brace of quite sublime cover drives in successive balls that saw England take another giant stride towards an evening declaration as the Australian attack looked a little ragged. Bell, playing Warne quietly and with the minimum of fuss from his crease, was looking more and more assured as he closed in on a second half-century of the game.

Immediately after the drinks break, Bell signalled his – and England’s – intent by launching Glenn McGrath high over long off for six. In the next over, he came down the track to Warne and played all around a ripping leg-spinner only for Gilchrist to miss the simplest of stumpings. One ball later, a single took England past 200. Strauss then aimed a huge smear at one spinning out of the rough and was exceedingly fortunate not to drag the ball on to his stumps.

Warne dropped short to Strauss and the ball disappeared way back into the crowd at midwicket to take him on to 95, then a brace and a single towards the end of the over allowed him to retain the strike. At this stage, England were being placed under no pressure whatsoever and the lead raced past 350. Glenn McGrath’s personal pride meant that he did his best to prevent Andrew Strauss from proceeding to a hundred off his bowling, but eventually one of many bouncers was belted away through midwicket for four to the delight of the massed ranks of England supporters. It was the sixth time Strauss had progressed to three figures, but his first hundred against Australia.

Strauss’s fine innings of 106 came to an end shortly afterwards when he holed out to Damien Martyn at deep square leg, going for one big shot too many off the bowling of Glenn McGrath. This brought Kevin Pietersen to the middle with England sitting very pretty on 224-3. Two balls later and it was 225-4, and Pietersen (0) knew what it felt like to be on the receiving end of a first-baller. Bowling around the wicket, McGrath produced the perfect inswinging yorker right up in the block-hole. Pietersen, clearly surprised, was trapped on the crease and equally clearly gone for all money.

Bell drove Warne off the back foot to register his half-century, then Adam Gilchrist confirmed further what an awful game both keepers were having by dropping local hero Andrew Flintoff when the big all-rounder was yet to open his account. A single off McGrath had him up and running before Bell top-edged the same bowler high over the flailing arms of the despairing wicketkeeper for another boundary. It wasn’t the first time the batsman had enjoyed a degree of good fortune in his innings.

Shane Warne, bowling exclusively into the rough in an attempt to make run-scoring as difficult as possible, was posing little threat to the English batsmen at this stage. McGrath, with his reverse-swing from around the wicket however, was a totally different prospect. Flintoff (5) flailed in an attempt to push the scoring along, only to lose his middle stump with the total on 248.

Geraint Jones was immediately under way, scampering two runs three times then hooking for four, much to McGrath’s disgust. With that stroke, England ensured that any Australian victory target would be over 400. Ian Bell’s valuable innings came to an end in the quest for quick runs, and McGrath profited to the tune of yet another five-wicket haul in test cricket. Bell, on 65, came down the track and tried to hit the all-time great into the crowd but only succeeded in finding the hands of Simon Katich at long off.

Jones threw everything at a length ball from Glenn McGrath, and the next time the ball saw the light of day, it was when it rolled out from behind the seats in Row Q. The next ball, a top-edge brought four more, then another six by the hard-hitting Jones (27*) went way back into the crowd and gave Vaughan the insurance to declare on 280-6, setting Australia the small matter of 423 to win.

To a growing crescendo of noise, Steve Harmison came charging in and whistled the first two balls past an unperturbed Justin Langer’s nose. A couple wider had Langer leaving alone before Harmison moved around the wicket in order to force the batsman into playing.

Matthew Hoggard, somewhat out of form in the early part of the Ashes series, opened from the Stretford End and Matthew Hayden nudged a single square of the wicket. Two balls later, a short one outside off stump gave Langer all the time in the world to thrash the ball to the cover boundary.

The crowd held their breath as the umpires came together, seemingly to discuss the deteriorating light as a solitary dark cloud made its presence felt over Old Trafford, but to the relief of those originating from north of the equator, play was permitted to continue.

Michael Vaughan ensured that there would be at least no questions about danger to the batsmen in the indifferent light when Ashley Giles was introduced after a solitary over from Hoggard. At the Brian Statham End the England captain then introduced himself into the attack, remarkably bringing spin into play from both ends within the first five overs of the innings.

Hayden came dancing down the track to Giles, attacking the rough areas outside the left-hander’s off stump, and the batsman was fortunate that the resultant inside edge onto pad didn’t go to hand. Langer was quick to pounce when Giles over-pitched fractionally, punching the ball through the sparsely-populated cover region. It was a rare moment of normality in a most surreal ending to play at the end of the fourth day.

Langer survived a huge shout for leg before wicket after padding up to a delivery from Vaughan without offering a shot, and frankly it was a surprise the decision went in the batsman’s favour. Vaughan and Giles showed enough to suggest that they will be sharing the bulk of the work tomorrow as Australia chase another 399 runs for victory, whereas for England, the requirement is ten wickets.

The incentive for the victors will be to put themselves into a position of huge advantage to win the 2005 Ashes. Who dares, wins, or so the saying goes – but dare Australia even contemplate such a chase on a wicket offering so much assistance to the finger-spinners?

Match Summary

England 444
Vaughan 166, Trescothick 63, Bell 59
Warne 4-99, Lee 4-100

and 280-6 declared
Strauss 106, Bell 65
McGrath 5-115

Australia 302
Warne 90
S Jones 6-53, Giles 3-100

and 24-0
Langer 14*, Hayden 5*

Australia need 399 more runs to win with 10 wickets in hand

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