England crush Australia

After an even first day, Australia began the second perfectly, with the early wicket so desperately needed. Lee and Warne began sedately and confirmed suspicions that the pitch would still be easy to bat on, but a few overs into the morning Warne very nearly had Flintoff trapped in front, and in the very next over Lee found a hint of swing and removed Kevin Pietersen. Australia’s no ball troubles from day 1 were almost gone, but the seamers struggled to extract any pace or bounce from a dead pitch, and Flintoff and Jones settled in and forced Ponting onto the defence as the score approached 300 by drinks. After drinks Australia still had five overs to wait before the new ball was due, and the scoring rate continued to rise as Flintoff approached a rapid yet risk-free half-century. He brought it up with a slog-sweep for six off Warne, and after the new ball was taken and failed to offer any significant help for Tait, he continued on his way with a series of brutal boundaries off the debutant. Lee meanwhile used the new ball to perfection and nearly dismissed Geraint Jones on several occasions. The partnership moved past 100 as Lee continued to cause problems, and Kasprowicz was brought on for a brief spell before lunch and almost had Flintoff twice in an over. First a big lbw appeal was turned down by umpire Dar, and then a mistimed drive from Flintoff landed inches short of a diving Ricky Ponting in the covers. In the end, despite some good bowling by Australia right before lunch and an early wicket, it was England’s session, and Flintoff and Jones remained unbeaten with a score well in excess of 400 on the cards.

Another near-miss for Australia directly followed the break, as Geraint Jones swung hard at a full ball from Lee, and appeared to edge it through to Gilchrist. Umpire Bucknor had his doubts though, and was supported by inconclusive replays. Immediately after the rejected appeal, Jones and Flintoff launched into the best hour of the test to date for England, as they piled on the runs without the loss of a wicket. Along the way Michael Kasprowicz was hit out of the attack, Jones brought up his half-century, and eventually, after spending a couple of tense overs on 99, Flintoff made his fifth test match century. More good news for England followed as Shaun Tait appeared to find some reverse swing for the first time in the match, offering a boost to England’s bowlers who would have been dreading bowling on a real featherbed. The reverse did some good for Tait though, as he picked up his third scalp in an impressive debut immediately before drinks, trapping Flintoff in front with a quick, straight one that came in at him a fraction and beat his heave to midwicket.

Following the 177 run 6th wicket stand, Australia would have had hopes of quickly moving through the England tail and reducing the damage as much as possible, but Giles defended resolutely and set about building another partnership with Jones. They added 32 for the 7th wicket as the clock ticked down towards tea, before an inspired piece of work off his own bowling from Michael Kasprowicz ended the England wicket-keeper’s innings on 85. A stock leg-cutter from Kasprowicz caught the inside edge and ballooned off the pad, and the Queensland seamer changed direction in his follow-through and threw himself across the pitch to take a wonderful catch. Things quickly unravelled for England from there, and in the very next over Shane Warne continued his personal domination over his opposite number by removing Giles for the fourth time in the series, hitting him dead in front with a textbook slider. Steve Harmison then got himself out in bizarre fashion, charging down the wicket at Warne, missing the ball, and then promptly falling over onto his back while Gilchrist removed the bails. Simon Jones ensured the score would be as close as possible to 500 with some big hitting in the extended period before tea, riding his luck remarkably. Jones recieved a unique near-dismissal when a Lee bouncer failed to get up and hit him in the helmet and the chest as he ducked, before rebounding on to his stumps hard enough to be heard by the stump microphone and visibly bounce away, but the bails remained intact. Rueful smiles from the Australian fielders concealed frustration at continued poor fortune, and Hoggard and Jones continued to deny the bowlers and raise the already formiddable England total. Eventually Warne ended proceedings with his fourth wicket for the innings, as Hoggard edged a regulation leg-break to Gilchrist, and England’s innings was closed at a daunting 477, setting Australia a huge task.

Australia began their innings after the late tea break in a solid manner, seeing off Harmison after a poor spell where he struggled with the lifeless pitch. In the 10th over of the innings the breakthrough came, thanks to some excellent swing bowling from Matthew Hoggard. Hoggard was finally hitting the right lines with his inswingers to the left-handed openers, and he trapped the hapless Hayden dead in front. It was the third time he had dismissed Hayden in the series to date, and things quickly went from bad to worse for Australia. Simon Jones got one to swing back the other way and trapped the Australian captain in front as well, despite what appeared to be a thin inside edge, and then the third wicket in as many overs fell when Hoggard got Martyn despite another inside edge, much bigger this time. It was the second test in a row that Martyn had been on the wrong end of a missed inside edge in an LBW decision, but Dar’s decision stood and Australia were in desperate strife at 3/22. Michael Clarke joined Langer at the crease and began a mini-revival, as both batsmen settled in and saw Simon Jones out of the attack, but Hoggard continued his devastating spell, and there was no doubt about the next wicket to fall as Langer was caught brilliantly at bat-pad and walked. Katich was nearly dismissed immediately as he prodded Hoggard on to the leg side and Ian Bell put down a sharp chance, but despite his shaky start he managed to consolidate and keep his wicket in hand. Michael Clarke, far from looking shaky, looked completely at home against the swing and pace of the English seamers, and was by far the best of the batsmen in the evening session. Clarke and Katich consilidated, but there was still time for England to strike one final blow before stumps to cement the day as their own and take a firm grip on the Ashes for the first time in almost 20 years. Harmison swung one in to Clarke and picked up the fourth lbw of the innings, but there was no doubt about this one and Bucknor raised his finger and then called stumps, with Australia at 5/99 and still 378 runs behind.

It was England’s day, and perhaps the most one-sided day of the series so far. Flintoff and Jones set the tone with their massive stand, and then Hoggard led England’s attack in a brilliant display of swing bowling. Australia will begin by praying for rain, and failing that they will need a miracle to avoid going 2-1 down with one test to play. Australia’s batting continues to be the weak point of the series, with another top order collapse leading England to a strong position. Australia bowled well in patches today, and also on the first day, but England were able to weather the storm and come out the other side to pile on the runs. Australia could do nothing of the sort, and haven’t been able to all series, as some good England bowling on a flat pitch once again led to a flurry of wickets. There remains tomorrow a realistic chance of Australia following-on, something that not one member of the current Australian team has ever had to do. And, if that does happen, they may also experience for the first time what it is like to lose the Ashes.

Score Summary
England 477
Andrew Flintoff 102, Geraint Jones 85
Shane Warne 4/102, Shaun Tait 3/97

Australia 5/99
Michael Clarke 36, Justin Langer 28
Matthew Hoggard 3/32, Simon Jones 1/22

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