World XI still alive

Day three began well for Australia again, as Ponting and Hayden settled in well on a pitch that was still good for batting. Muralitharan and Flintoff began things, and despite a couple of testing deliveries from Flintoff, Australia progressed through the first half-hour without incident. Muralitharan had two LBW appeals referred in his first half-dozen overs, but both were turned down and the Australians progressed past 100 as the lead grew to dangerous proportions. Matthew Hayden brought up his third consecutive half-century, and Australia were threatening to pull away to an unassailable position as Vettori and Muralitharan struggled to maintain pressure on the batsman on a pitch that was looking far less spin-friendly than when Warne and MacGill were bowling on day 2.

The re-introduction of Stephen Harmison into the attack before lunch changed things, as his second over induced an edge from Hayden, and Harmison broke the 122 run partnership when he followed up a beautiful Hayden pull shot with a perfect slower ball, and the Australian opener was bowled short of his second century of the match, for 77. Harmison’s next wicket came in his next over, when Clarke drove hard and loose at a straight delivery and was bowled through the gate, and suddenly restricting Australia to a lead of 400 seemed possible. Harmison’s length was much fuller than in his first spell of the second innings, and he was causing far more problems than when he was consistently dropping short of a length. Harmison couldn’t find another breakthrough before lunch though, and Ponting’s half-century saw Australia to the break in a stone position, over 300 runs ahead.

Immediately after lunch, the game swung further towards the World XI. The second over saw a beautiful delivery from Flintoff to Ponting that left the Australian captain and caught the edge, and Australia were four down. The next over was comfortably Muralitharan’s best in the match to date, as he beat Katich consistently. The first ball of the over offered a simple stumping chance that was missed by Mark Boucher, and Muralitharan then beat Katich twice, first almost bowling him with a doosra, and then beating the edge with an off-break, before the fourth ball of the over caught a leading edge and Murali himself completed the catch. Five wickets down with a chasable lead of 325 and two new batsmen at the crease, and the game was almost back on level pegging after a flurry of wickets. Muralitharan’s next over blew the game wide open, as he dismissed the dangerous and in-form Adam Gilchrist, and the World XI were suddenly looking at a chase in the region of 350 on a pitch still good for batting.

Things continued to sour for Australia, as Flintoff grabbed his second wicket of the session. Warne was squared up by one that straightened slightly and scooped it to Dravid at short-midwicket for a simple catch. Shane Watson looked solid at the crease once more, but was struggling to pick Muralitharan’s variations and the scoreboard wasn’t moving, with Australia still well short of an unassailable target. After the first 10 post-Lunch overs, Australia had lost 4 wickets and surrendered their control of the game. Flintoff and Muralitharan set in and tormented Lee and Watson either side of the drinks break. Half a dozen times Flintoff sent the ball past the edge of Lee’s bat, and Watson struggled with Murali and could have been out a number of times. Eventually it was Flintoff who got the breakthough, as Watson hooked at one and got a top edge through to Boucher, and was gone for 10. Lee and McGrath saw off the rest of Flintoff’s over and one more from Muralitharan, before the light was offered and the Australians walked off after a shocking mini-session which cost them five wickets at a run rate of less than two per over. The light interruption brought about an early tea break, and with the game in the balance a fascinating final session was on the cards. However, just as the final session looked set to commence as normal, the light interrupted again. The moment the batsmen reached the middle after tea the light offer was made again, and the players walked off for a much longer break this time. When the lengthy delay finally ended, the players returned only to have the Australian innings ended quickly. McGrath and Lee were knocked over in quick time, and the World XI were set a tricky but plausible target of 355, after a magnificent afternoon with the ball.

The players left the field for another 10 minutes, and with overcast conditions, life in the pitch and a new ball, Glenn McGrath came out and stamped his authority on the match once again. His first over was simply magnificant, full of variation, significant movement off the pitch and through the air, and eventually resulting in a wicket. The first delivery cut away and beat the edge of Smith’s bat, the second jagged back off the pitch and struck the batsman on the body, and after two straight deliveries he sent in a yorker that swung in slightly and beat Smith comprehensively, bowling him. After a wayward delivery or two, Lee as well was on the money and beat Dravid’s bat several times, as the World XI looked to be struggling just to survive.

A let-off for the World team came soon afterwards though, as the light deteriorated further and Ponting was forced to bring on spin from both ends. Warne began with a loose full toss, but even with the new ball the two Australian leg-spinners caused problems. Sehwag first failed to pick Macgill’s wrong’un, and then soon after tried to cut close to his body and got an underedge to Gilchrist, who took a good catch. The light was eventually taken again and play for the day ended, after ball had dominated bat totally since the second wicket stand for Australia was broken. More than just the ball, the day was dominated by Muralitharan’s brilliant spell in the middle of day. Despite taking only three wickets, it was his two wickets in consecutive overs and the support from Flintoff that kept the World XI in the hunt. Because of the good bowling today, after three days the game could still go either way, but with only 8 wickets left to take and the likelyhood of more difficult batting conditions tomorrow, Australia are certainly favourites.

Score Summary

Australia 345
Matthew Hayden 111, Adam Gilchrist 94
Andrew Flintoff 4/59, Muttiah Muralitharan 2/102

ICC world XI 190
Virender Sehwag 76, Jacques Kallis 44
Stuart Macgill 4/39, Shane Warne 3/23

Australia 199
Matthew Hayden 77, Ricky Ponting 54
Stephen Harmison 3/41, Andrew Flintioff 3/48

ICC World XI 2/25
Rahul Dravid 17*, Virender Sehwag 7
Glenn McGrath 1/0, Stuart Macgill 1/7

Australia lead by 329 runs.
The series is tied 0-0.

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