England stumble over the line

Australia knew at the start of play on day four that they had to bat for a long time, without respite. Six of the current Australian eleven and two more players in the dressing room not taking part were at Eden Gardens four years ago, when Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman batted a day without the loss of a wicket to put India in a winning position after following on, and Australia now found themselves with the same task ahead of them. Katich and Clarke began the morning in the midst of a 61 run stand that would go a long way towards determining Australia’s chances in the match. Australia were still 37 runs behind England’s first innings total, and would need a long day at the crease to build a total which England would struggle to chase.

Katich and Clarke began carefully with this in mind, playing sensibly and getting prepared for a long stay at the crease. Simon Jones remained off the field with an ankle injury, forcing Michael Vaughan to look to Harmison and Flintoff to open the bowling. Vaughan rotated the bowlers regularly leading up to the new ball, not only using Hoggard and Giles but also turning to Ian Bell in an attempt to frustrate Michael Clarke out. Despite half an hour on 48, it didn’t work and the classy young Australian brought up a much needed 50, after a lengthy 150 minutes at the crease. Soon after, Vaughan ended his delay of the new ball, and the Australians saw off one over from Harmison with it before drinks ended a good start for the batting team.

After drinks, Australia settled in to see off the new ball and did so flawlessly. As had been the trend throughout the match so far, the new ball failed to swing immediately, and Australia took advantage of it by defending comfortably and leaving whenever possible. The first 6 overs after drinks yielded just 5 runs, and as the overs ticked by the two most inexperienced members of Australia’s batting lineup carried their team back into the black and ensured England would bat again. In the process the century stand was raised, after 100 minutes of fruitless effort from England on day 4. The only nervous moment for Australia before the deficit was erased came when Matthew Hoggard came close to trapping Clarke in front, but umpire Bucknor judged that the ball would have missed leg stump. 15 minutes before lunch, Australia nearly suffered their second run out of the innings during a horrible mix-up, but Flintoff missed the stumps from close range and Australia survived. The near-missed ended the very next over and the crucial blow landed, when Clarke’s flawless concentration all morning was broken up just before lunch and he prodded at a wide outswinger from Hoggard to present Jones with a catch. The last recognised batsman in Adam Gilchrist strode to the crease with Australia five wickets down and just two runs in front, with all the work of setting a target still ahead of him. The series-long battle between Gilchrist and Flintoff resumed immediately, as Gilchrist executed an exquisite cover drive and then a brutal pull shot for consecutive boundaries, before Flintoff beat the bat, the over finished and lunch was called.

After the break, Australia needed a lot from their 6th wicket pairing but got very little. Soon after lunch, Hoggard got one to pitch on leg and straighten to Gilchrist and rap him on the pads. After a long look, Bucknor raised his finger, and HawkEye suggested it would indeed have been clipping leg. All seemed lost for Australia when Warne arrived at the crease, just 18 runs ahead with only the bowlers to come. Warne immediately launched into a trademark whirlwind innings, carving three fours in an over off Flintoff as the Australian score raced past 300. Just when thoughts of another heroic performance by the tail were emerging in the mind, Australia were struck a cruel blow. Katich had moved to a dour half-century and was providing vital support for Warne, until Harmison struck him on the pad and umpire Dar raised his finger. The ball appeared to have pitched several inches outside leg stump and the height was also questionable, but the decision stood and Australia were 7 down. Lee settled in for a vital stay at the crease, while Warne blasted the bowling at the other end. English captain Michael Vaughan turned to the spin of Giles, and he was greeted into the attack with a massive six from Warne, but had the last laugh as Geraint Jones, having missed several opportunities already in the innings, managed to take a sharp stumping chance and Warne was gone for 45. Kasprowicz too managed to frustrate the bowling as the Australian lead gradually crept towards a competitive target. Lee and Kasprowicz managed to push the fielders to the fence and add an extra 31 runs before Harmison did the trick with an outswinger, and after some more hitting from Lee the innings was closed when Tait stepped right across his stumps and was bowled. In the end, Australia had managed to get a respectable lead of 128, but it was unlikely to be enough to seriously challenge England on a fairly sedate pitch.

After tea, England began their chase of 129 positively, despite a fiery opening from Brett Lee. Kasprowicz was preferred over Tait at the other end, but was given only a brief spell. His first two overs found him being sent to the fence repeatedly, and after conceding 19 off them and with England less than 100 runs from victory at 0/32, Ponting turned to the one man who could concievably perform a miracle to win the test. Warne came in for the first ball with the hopes of a nation on his shoulders, Marcus Trescothick prodded forward to it, edged it on to his pad and Ricky Ponting took a sharp catch. Warne had struck the crucial first blow, and suddenly he was in his element. Warne’s over finished as a wicket maiden, and after Strauss saw off another nasty over from Lee it was his turn again, and this time the batsman was England’s captain. Warne produced drift reminicent of a dozen years ago in to the right-hander’s pads, Vaughan attempted to play against the spin and caught a leading edge which was well taken by Hayden in the slips.

Suddenly, Warne was unplayable and Lee was putting every ball in the right spot. For six heart-wrenching overs Strauss and Bell hung on, then Warne struck for a third time, as he turned one across Strauss, who edged attempting to defend it and was brilliantly caught by Clarke close on the leg side. In the very next over Lee finally managed a breakthrough after a wonderful spell with the new ball, as he sent down a fast, straight bouncer and Bell was drawn into the hook shot, which looped up for an easy catch to Kasprowicz. England were four wickets down with 72 runs still needed, and the possibility of the fourth ever win after a follow-on in test history was looking far less fanciful than it had half an hour earlier.

Pietersen and Flintoff then began the revival that would surely seal the match. They played Warne comfortably and forced him around the wicket, they handled the arrival of Shaun Tait and his swing and pace, and for 10 overs they carried England forward, adding 46 crucial runs and bringing a 2-1 series lead in sight. There were some close calls along the way, particularly a huge shout when Warne rapped Flintoff on the pads, but the runs came and the wickets weren’t falling. However, Just when it appeared that England were going to cruise home by 6 wickets, Tait was taken out of the attack and replaced by Lee. If Lee’s first spell was good, his second was simply extraordinary, and he struck immediately with a hint of outswing to remove Pietersen. Warne sent down another testing over at the other end and couldn’t get a breakthrough, but when Lee returned for the second over of his spell he produced one of the best deliveries of his career, jagging one back from outside off stump to clean bowl Flintoff and keep Australia in the contest.

England now found themselves 18 runs short with Jones and the bowlers to come, and still the chance of a stunning Australian victory loomed on the horizon. In the very next over things got worse for England, when Geraint Jones gave his wicket away in the worst fashion imaginable. After a tight, testing over from Warne, Jones charged down the wicket and skied the ball pointlessly down the throat of Michael Kasprowicz.

Australia were starting to believe, but with 13 to win there would be no more heroics from their side, as it was time for Matthew Hoggard and Ashley Giles to stand up. Giles had looked hopeless against Warne for the whole series, but he found enough to keep out two overs, while Hoggard at the other end struck a heroic boundary off Brett Lee to finally assure England of victory. Giles scored the winning runs to end an incredible period of 32 overs in an England victory, and for the third test in a row cricket fans the world over will be searching for superlatives to describe the dizzying heights to which this series has risen, again and again.

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

Australia 218
Brett Lee 47, Simon Katich 45
Simon Jones 5/44, Matthew Hoggard 3/70

Australia 387 (f/o)
Justin Langer 61, Simon Katich 59
Steve Harmison 3/93, Matthew Hoggard 2/72

England 7/129
Marcus Trescothick 27, Andrew Flintoff 26
Shane Warne 4/31, Brett Lee 3/51

CricketWeb Player of the Match
Andrew Flintoff – 102 & 26, 1/54 & 2/83

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