England turn the screw

The crucial second day of the pivotal third test began brightly for Australia. Glenn McGrath began the day with a touch of swing, using a ball that was just four overs old, but the breakthrough came at the other end. Brett Lee sent down a high bouncer that slanted back in at Ian Bell, and the young Warwickshire batsman hooked at it wildly and gave a thin edge through to Gilchrist. Replays and the snickometer suggested that he might have missed it, but a convincing appeal and a slight noise was good enough for Steve Bucknor. After the wicket, Lee continued to bowl well, and worked up ferocious pace in his opening spell, with one bouncer clocking in at a staggering 98.7 miles per hour. Despite an excellent opening spell from Australia’s bowlers, Flintoff and Jones managed to weather the storm, and were starting to get England back on top when rain caused a brief interruption in play.

As it happened, the break did little but disrupt the Australian bowlers. Brett Lee struggled to find his footing in the slippery footmarks and bowled two terrible overs after the resumption of play, and Flintoff dispatched him to the boundary on several occasions. Shane Warne appeared unlucky to miss out on the wicket of Jones soon after the restart, as he appeared to have the England keeper trapped in front with a slider, but his appeal was turned down. Lee was replaced by the woefully out of form Jason Gillespie, and things got worse for the Australians as both batsmen attacked him mercilessly. The score raced past 400 and Flintoff closed in on a third consecutive half-century. However, just when it looked as though England were set for a total in excess of 500, Flintoff took the aerial route one time too many, and after being decieved in the flight by Shane Warne he presented Justin Langer with a catch just inside the rope. Australia gathered momentum once more, and in the final over before the lunch break Jason Gillespie struck with a wicket that was much needed, both personally and for the team. He got one to come back slightly off the wicket, and sent Geraint Jones’ off stump cartwheeling.

After lunch, Australia continued their fightback by quickly wrapping up England’s innings, with Warne first picking up Giles with a regulation leg-break that was edged to first slip, and then bowling Simon Jones through the gate. England’s final total was 444, which seemed a good but not unbeatable total on what remained a good pitch for batting, despite some ominous footmarks. All in all, Australia would have settled for 444 after England were 3 down for a score in excess off 300 on the first afternoon, and England would have been happy with the score also.

Australia’s reply began shakily, as Matthew Hoggard very nearly got a breakthrough in the second over of the innings. Hayden was struck in front of middle and leg by a sharp inswinger that Hawkeye believed would have clipped leg-stump, but Billy Bowden gave Hayden the benefit of the doubt and Australia’s opening pair survived. From there, Australia’s solid morning continued, as Justin Langer struck some glorious cover drives off Matthew Hoggard, and Steve Harmison bowled poorly and was hit out of the attack. Matthew Hayden continued to look shaky though, and offered another chance as Hoggard put down a near-impossible caught and bowled attempt. After the drinks break Hayden began to find his feet, pulling Flintoff twice in an over in a fashion reminicent of the heights of a couple of years ago for the Queensland opening batsman. Michael Vaughan was forced to turn to the finger spin of Giles after just 16 overs, but it proved an excellent move as he troubled Justin Langer immediately, first having a huge appeal for caught behind that was turned down, and then picking up the breakthrough off the next delivery. Langer stepped down the pitch looking to drive, but succeeded only in offering a sharp chance to Ian Bell at bat-pad, which was well held. Ponting and Hayden safely negotiated the final moments of the middle session though, as Australia progressed to tea at 1/73, with the game in the balance ahead of a vital evening session.

The evening session did indeed turn out to be decisive, and it began brilliantly for England. Simon Jones got the first ball after the tea break to bounce a little more than expected on Ricky Ponting, and the Australian captain could only loop the ball off the shoulder of his back and give Ian Bell a comfortable catch in the gully. Things went from bad to worse for Australia from there, as Giles got one to really turn for the first time in the match and trapped Matthew Hayden in front. Hayden was incensed by the decision, as he appeared to have purposely got himself outside the line of off-stump and was clearly struck outside the line, but the decision was nevertheless given and Australia had another potential batting collapse on their hands.

Damien Martyn and Simon Katich earned a reputation for being able to graft out an innings in the most difficult of circumstances in the subcontinent last year, but on this occasion they could manage only a mini-revival. Batting was difficult, with first Simon Jones and then Andrew Flintoff reverse-swinging the ball a significant amount, and Giles troubling all the batsmen with turn from the footmarks, but Katich and Martyn saw off the tough period resolutely, and Australia went to the drinks break with the hope of a recovery still fresh in their minds. The first ball after a break once again proved lethal for Australia, as Katich failed to pick the direction of the reverse swing from Flintoff, and did not offer a shot to one that darted back at him late and crashed into his off-stump. Once again Australia lost successive wickets, as Ashley Giles turned one sharply past the solid defence of Martyn and bowled him. Australia were suddenly five wickets down and starting down the barrell of following on for the first time in 17 years, and the call was made to get Michael Clarke to the ground in case he had to bat. Shane Warne came out ahead of him though, and Warne and Gilchrist set about trying to see Australia safely to stumps. Gilchrist was given two lives early in his innings, as first Ian Bell and then Kevin Pietersen put down sharp chances fielding close on the off-side, and with each drop the chance of a famous Gilchrist-inspired recovery grew. Shane Warne played some excellent shots and handled the lethal swing and sharp turn better than most of Australia’s top order, and he and Gilchrist combined to add a vital half-century stand for the 6th wicket. After Australia had seen off a brief return from Steve Harmison, Simon Jones came into the attack and once again struck with his first delivery, as he got one to swing away from Gilchrist, who edged it through to Geraint Jones. Michael Clarke strode to the wicket at number 8 with 63 more runs needed to avoid the follow on. He was joined by a runner in Matthew Hayden, and looked in severe pain from his first delivery. Each duck under a bouncer or shot off the back-foot was accompanied by a grimace of pain, and despite a few classy strokes he never looked likely to last. Shane Warne continued to play brilliantly down the other end, but Clarke was decieved by a Jones slower ball and lofted an easy catch to Flintoff at mid-off. Jason Gillespie then came out to bat with Australia still needing more runs to get the deficit under 200, and succeeded with Shane Warne in seeing off the final overs of the day without further loss.

Australia finished the day at 7/210, still 35 runs short of avoiding the follow-on. With the pitch abrasive and conducive to reverse swing, and with serious spin and some uneven bounce becoming more evident, batting in the fourth innings may well be exceedingly difficult, and Michael Vaughan may not even wish to enforce the follow-on should it become an option. Either way, it was England’s day, appears to be England’s match, and continues to be England’s series. Where Australia carry an out of form seamer and allow England to dominate in periods with the bat, Australia are forced to work for every run. While England keep the pressure on in the field, Australia drop vital catches. While England form big partnerships and manage large individual scores, Australia’s batsmen routinely give away their wickets after a start. Aside from most of the first test, Australia have looked genuinely outclassed in all aspects of the game throughout the series, and a shadow of the team that has terrorised the opposition and dominated international cricket for over a decade. It was stated by those in the Australian camp before the third test that Australia were not going to panic, but the time has now come where desperation must be setting in, and the prospect of giving up the Ashes for the first time in 18 years now seems a real one. England have lived up to the hype in every sense, while Australia have underachieved in all aspects of the game, and that, as it stands, is reflected in what now looks likely to be a 2-1 series lead for the home team. Australia will require a miraculous performance or severe intervention from the weather to avoid losing this test, and the path to an Ashes win from 2-1 down is a long and hard one.

Score Summary
England 444
Michael Vaughan 166, Marcus Trescothick 63
Shane Warne 4/99, Brett Lee 4/100

Australia 7/210
Shane Warne 45*, Matthew Hayden 34
Simon Jones 3/30, Ashley Giles 3/63

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