England on top after Day Two

The second day of the Edgbaston test dawned overcast after a night of heavy rain, with Australia having a daunting 407 run deficit ahead of them, and England the chance to take a firm grip on the vital second test.

Things started badly for Australia, as Matthew Hayden’s form woes continued and he spooned an easy catch to Andrew Strauss off the bowling of Matthew Hoggard. The overnight conditons had injected a little bit of life into the dead Edgbaston pitch, but it wasn’t enough to earn England any more wickets early on, as Ponting set about flaying the bowling to all parts and putting his team back on track. Hoggard was hit out of the attack after just four overs, and Jones and Harmison didn’t fare much better as the Australian captain raced to a run-a-ball half-century and Australia went to the drinks break one wicket down. At the other end though, Justin Langer was suffering at the hands of an aggressive Steve Harmison and bowling more accurate than what was offered to Ponting. Harmison struck Langer multiple times in the first hour, but the resiliant West Australian hung on to his wicket. The introduction of Ashley Giles into the attack heralded a much needed breakthrough, marking the first time of several in the day that England would peg back Australia just as they looked likely to get on top of the situation. Ponting tried to sweep a relatively innocuous delivery and top edged it to Vaughan behind square. This alone would have squared the session for England, but things soon got worse for Australia. Damien Martyn announced his arrival to the crease in an imposing fasion with successive boundaries off Flintoff, but one quick single too many and some lazy running cost him his wicket, as the England captain was involved once more, throwing down the stumps in spectacular fashion. As a result, Australia went to lunch slightly behind at 3/118, in need of a strong afternoon session.

A strong afternoon session is what they got, at least for the first hour, as Michael Clarke and Justin Langer put together the most impressive partnership of the innings to date, cruising along at a run a minute for an hour without a risk. Langer passed his half-century and Clarke picked up where he left off at Lords with some breathtaking strokes, before once again the much-maligned Ashley Giles provided the breakthrough to cap off a clever spell after drinks. It was his arm ball with a touch of swing that got the wicket in the end, as Clarke prodded tenatively outside his off-stump and was dismissed for 40, ending a partnership of 76 just as it began to look dangerous. Once again Australia lost another wicket just before the end of the session, as Flintoff too found some movement and had Katich caught behind with an unplayable reverse outswinger. It was at this point that the regularly discussed battle between Flintoff and Gilchrist resumed, with England’s star all-rounder immediately starting around the wicket to Gilchrist to cramp him for room. This time though Gilchrist had Flintoff’s measure, and Australia progressed safely to 5/218 at tea.

The final session of the day began with England one wicket away from the tail. Australia had been rescued many times by Gilchrist at number 7 though, so the issue was far from settled. Langer began confidently by pulling Flintoff to the fence, and Gilchrist survived Flintoff as the two batsmen compiled a half-century stand for the 7th wicket. Simon Jones returned for Flintoff and also found reverse swing, using it to devastating effect to beat the bat more than once and then trap Langer in front with a vicious inswinger for 82. This began a mini Australian collapse, as Jones produced the best spell of swing bowling in the series so far and Giles complimented him well at the other end as he had all day for the various English seamers. Warne produced a couple of good shots, but looked out of his depth against Jones and got himself out with a terrible piece of batting against Giles, as he stepped down the crease and missed with a wild swing and was bowled. Jones then accounted for Lee with the ball of the day, as the Australian fast bowler has no answer for vicious away swing and edged to Flintoff at second slip. Australia managed to restore some respectability and move within 100 of England’s total thanks to some typically resiliant batting from Jason Gillespie, but it was never going to be enough to stop England from taking a firm grip on the match. Gillespie was eventually dismissed by a somewhat dubious LBW decision, as Flintoff’s inswinger appeared to be drifting down the leg-side. There was no doubt about the next ball though, as Kasprowicz was trapped in front comprehensively, stranding Adam Gilchrist on 49 not out and leaving Australia 99 runs in arrears on the first innings.

The dramas of day two were not yet finished, as England were left to negotiate seven overs before stumps. Things began poorly for Australia once again, as Brett Lee delivered a wide half-volley to Marcus Trescothick, who dispatched it to the boundary with ease. Gillespie too was seen off with ease, and the only scare for England in the opening few overs came when Trescothick deflected a Lee bouncer in the air on the leg-side, but it landed safely. There was one final twist in store before the day was done, as Ponting handed the ball to Shane Warne for the final over of the day. He immediately returned to bowling around-the-wicket after his success against Strauss on the first day, and the first delivery turned sharply and missed leg stump behind a bemused Strauss. The second one rivalled any delivery in Warne’s extensive archive, as Strauss attempted to pad away a wide one and was drawn almost sideways by the drift, before it turned back sharply and Strauss was comprehensively bowled.

England won the day comforably in the end, with good performances from Simon Jones, Giles and Flintoff handing them a large first innings lead and a shot at squaring the series before the next encounter at Old Trafford. Australia have won several matches form significant first innings deficits under Ricky Ponting in the last 18 months, but the Edgbaston pitch displayed some wicked spin on just the second day, and logic suggests batting will be extremely difficult in the fourth innings, particularly when facing a large total. England will be hoping to bat all tomorrow and press home their advantage, but even the addition of 200 runs to the first innings lead would hand the home side a significant chance of victory. England have not won a live Ashes test in eight years, but this is a different England side, and the loss of Glenn McGrath may yet turn out to be a hugely significant one for Australia.

Who can say what will come next in this wonderful series?

Score Summary

England 407 (M Trescothick 90, K Pietersen 71, A Flintoff 68, S Warne 4/116, M Kasprowicz 3/80)

Australia 308 (J Langer 82, R Ponting 61, A Gilchrist 49*, A Flintoff 3/52, A Giles 3/78)

England 25/1 (M Trescothick 19*, S Warne 1/0)

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