England ‘Urn’ Right to Box Seat

The third day of the Trent Bridge leg in this quite remarkable 2005 Ashes series dawned precisely as swing bowlers Matthew Hoggard and Simon Jones would have wanted it – warm, a hint of breeze and half-and-half cloud cover. Australia awoke to find themselves tucked firmly behind the blackest of 8-balls on 99-5, still requiring an unlikely 179 to make England bat again.

The second day had ended wish Steve Harmison applying the coup-de-grace with some style, blasting out the hitherto unmoved and exquisitely stylish Michael Clarke. Brett Lee had purposefully strode down the pavilion steps to join Simon Katich but before he had made it to the middle, the umpires had realised that time for the day had expired, thus relieving him of his night-watchman duties at a stroke..

Adam Gilchrist it was, therefore, who faced the first ball of the morning from Steve Harmison and he was immediately under way, flicking a single to fine leg to bring up the Australian 100. Matthew Hoggard was recalled and immediately swung the ball into Gilchrist despite the sun breaking through. It was the one that went straight on that posed more immediate problems for Gilchrist though, beating his tentative defensive prod. Katich then made his first mark on the scoreboard with a checked drive that was half stopped at mid-off.

Michael Vaughan turned to Andrew Flintoff to continue his fascinating around-the-wicket duel with Gilchrist, and it was the Australian who made his presence felt first with a flashing drive through the covers for the first boundary of the morning when Flintoff overpitched. Batting in the sunshine was looking an altogether different prospect with far less movement than on Friday evening.

Gilchrist launched an extraordinary counter-attack and in the space of two deliveries from Hoggard, smashed over midwicket for four and six, changed the whole tempo of the morning. When Katich followed that up with consecutive boundaries through point in the same over, Australia had moved 22 precious runs closer to England’s total.

Katich launched himself at a wide one from Flintoff, carving high over gulley for four, then the same batsman creamed one through cover as the scoreboard continued to gallop around at a rate of knots. Hoggard continued from the Pavilion End and Gilchrist pounded a wide one through cover to bring up the 50 partnership at much better than a run a ball, then a lovely straight drive from Katich brought a remarkable opening half hour to a close.

The onslaught on Hoggard prompted Vaughan to turn to Simon Jones, and as he has done so often in his short England career, his golden arm produced the goods immediately. Katich (45) watched an inswinger carefully, then threw everything at the next one, fuller and wider. Unfortunately for Australia, the ball flew unerringly to Andrew Strauss at point.

157-6 became 157-7 the very next ball. Shane Warne (0), hero with the bat at both Edgbaston and Old Trafford, failed to negotiate the first delivery this time as he was totally squared up. The ball looped invitingly to Ian Bell at cover, bringing Brett Lee in to face the hat-trick ball which he successfully negotiated with a solid forward lunge.

Lee played an elegant square cut for four off the bowling of Flintoff, then the same batsman ducked into one and received a nasty blow on the shoulder for his troubles. It was Gilchrist who was next to go though, and he really does seem to be under Andrew Flintoff’s spell this summer. From around the wicket the ball held its own and Gilchrist (27), drawn into the defensive stroke, edged wide of second slip – or so it seemed. Andrew Strauss took off to his left, realising in mid-dive that he was never going to reach the ball with two hands. He could barely reach it with his left, but somehow clawed it in between fingers and palm to reduce Australia to 163-8.

Michael Kasprowicz flicked a Flintoff no-ball wide of slip for four to get his own score into credit then Brett Lee pulled hard over midwicket for a boundary of his own. Kasprowicz, on 5, was left to ponder who were the Sultans of Swing this morning when Simon Jones pulled another beauty out of the bag to beat the despairing lunge of the batsman.

Shaun Tait scrambled a single to register his first run in test cricket, then Brett Lee reduced the deficit below 300 with a spanking drive off Jones. Lee, now playing a shot a ball, then turned his attention to Steve Harmison, smashing the ball high, wide and handsome clean over the top of the grandstand at midwicket. The next over saw more of the same as another fantastic Lee strike off Jones found a new home in the grandstand, then a fortuitous heave over slip further reduced the deficit.

Lee carved another boundary over the third man area and by and large he was doing a great job of holding England at bay, and in the process had moved into the forties. England seemed to be making the mistake for the first time of not actually bowling dead straight, but conversely when Harmison did, Lee just swatted the ball out of the ground again to become Australia’s top scorer of the innings.

If ever any tail-ender deserved a half-century it was Lee, but cruelly he fell just three runs short of what would have been his third in tests. Heartbreak for Lee spelt joy for Simon Jones as a short ball was cut high over point and Ian Bell raced around the boundary to take a fine catch to end Australia’s resistance on 218. The impressive Jones had his five-wicket haul, the third time he had achieved the feat in test cricket.

With the cloud cover continuing to close in, Michael Vaughan can have had little hesitation in enforcing the follow-on, the first time that Australia had been asked to do so in the small matter of 189 test matches covering an unbelievable 17 years. So it was that, with a horrible fifteen minutes to go before lunch, Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden walked out to face Hoggard, who had done so much damage less than a day before, needing 259 to avoid the near-ignominy of an innings defeat against the oldest enemy.

Justin Langer threw everything at Hoggard’s second delivery of the innings and was exceedingly fortunate to see the ball fly wide of second slip and race to the boundary at third man. Sharing the new ball was Simon Jones, co-hero of the first innings, and when he erred marginally on the short side, Hayden pounced to thrash the ball to the fence at midwicket.

Langer, meanwhile, seemed to lose concentration and quick thinking by Bell at short leg had him scrambling to make his ground, but Australia successfully negotiated the four over period before the luncheon interval with all their second innings wickets intact and with 14 runs on the board.

Matthew Hoggard delivered the first over after lunch and Hayden produced one cracking front foot drive back straight past the bowler for the first boundary of the afternoon session. Harmison got one to leap at Langer from a good length but when the Durham paceman overpitched, the batsman had no difficulty in freeing his arms and finding the fence at extra cover, a feat the batsman achieved in far less convincing manner down to third man the following over.

Langer survived a confident shout for leg before wicket when Hoggard managed to produce an in-ducker, but it looked to the naked eye that the ball had done a little too much and would have missed leg stump. The opener’s trials and tribulations continued when, not for the first time this summer, he received a painful blow, this time on the point of the elbow when Harmison extracted a little life from the wicket.

Hayden continued going for his strokes and profited when he struck a fine boundary over the top off the bowling of Hoggard, then two balls later a powerful cut brought four more. Another rasping flat-batted drive was half-stopped, but not before a scrambled single took the opening partnership for Australia to 50 for only the second time in the series.

Whether history declares Michael Vaughan to be a brilliant captain or not, he certainly seems to be a lucky one – which just might be part and parcel of the same thing. No sooner did he turn to Andrew Flintoff then Australia were one down. Bowling around the wicket, he drew the flat-footed Matthew Hayden (26) into a scything drive outside off stump and the ball flew straight to the safe hands of Ashley Giles at fourth slip.

A heavy-legged Simon Jones, seemingly carrying a niggle, came on at the Radcliffe Road End and Justin Langer pounced on a ball of full length, bisecting the cover fielders for four. Meanwhile Flintoff was searching for a weakness outside Ricky Ponting’s off stump but at this stage the Australian captain seemed content to inspect the bowling very closely indeed, so much so that when drinks were called for a quarter of an hour later, he remained on 0.

The return of Harmison saw Ponting off the mark with a push to mid on, then Langer recklessly came within a whisker of chopping Harmison on to his own off stump. He looked quite superb a moment later as he leaned into a ball from Flintoff and sent the ball sizzling through extra cover. Ponting’s first boundary was streaky, edging Harmison past gulley, but the second was more convincing, pulled high over square leg.

Australia enjoyed a huge let-off when Justin Langer, in trying to play a forcing shot, edged Flintoff just wide of the hitherto immaculate Strauss at armpit height, only for the Middlesex man to put the chance down. Twice in the next couple of overs the ball narrowly avoided the outside edge as batting suddenly looked very difficult against Flintoff and Harmison.

It sometimes only takes a moment to relieve pressure and Ponting did just that, playing a remarkable pick-up shot high over midwicket for six. The ball from Flintoff was only marginally short but the stroke was of the highest quality. Australia achieved their first milestone when Ponting nudged a single to bring up the 100 for the loss of one wicket, then Langer did extremely well to keep one down that flew at his throat from a good length.

The spin of Ashley Giles was introduced for the first time in the game, and Ponting seemed very keen to attack as he squeezed the ball out uppishly past point. It fell to Harmison to bowl the last over before tea and Langer squeezed the second delivery through the vacant third man area to hoist a very fine and valuable half-century. At the interval, Australia were 115-1 and they were beginning to look more comfortable if not exactly in command.

The resumption saw Langer clip Matthew Hoggard neatly past square leg for four, but he was cleverly undone by Ashley Giles in the next over. The left-arm spinner tossed two up well wide of off stump and Langer played watchfully from the crease to balls that turned a long way but slowly. From the final ball of the over he pushed one through a little fuller and straighter and Langer (61) gloved the ball onto his front pad and once again Ian Bell dived full length to pull off a good catch.

Damien Martyn seemed to get himself in a bit of a tangle pushing at one from Giles that spun out of the rough, but the ball which narrowly evaded the defensive push missed the off stump by equally as narrow a margin. Ponting was quick to dance down the track to the spinner before stroking the ball past the diving extra cover as the sun made a fleeting appearance.

For the first time since Lord’s, England appeared to be without their ideal bowling options. Hoggard, the valiant work-horse, toiled away until drinks from the Radcliffe Road End but Simon Jones, the master earlier in the day, was off the field nursing an injury.

Damien Martyn punished Giles for four through the leg side when the spinner erred on the short side to take the Australian total beyond 150, and with both batsmen looking secure could be forgiven for entertaining the thought that they might yet set a challenging target – and then Vaughan turned to Andrew Flintoff as he has done time and time again this summer whenever the chips were down.

Flintoff’s first ball, a loosener on Martyn’s off stump, was jabbed into the covers and Ponting was called through for what seemed to be a regulation single. Substitute Gary Pratt of Durham, on the field for the injured Simon Jones pounced, picked up and threw down the stumps in a single movement. Ponting (48) had been done by a yard and Australia’s third wicket had been wrapped up in spectacular fashion for 155.

Ian Bell was brought into the attack to deliver his gentle medium-pacers and started with a tidy over to Michael Clarke, but it was Flintoff who once again produced what could be one of the more significant moments of the summer. A ball pitched just outside Damien Martyn’s off stump did just enough to find the outside edge and Geraint Jones pouched a regulation catch. Martyn had made just 13 and Australia were 161-4, still 98 in arrears.

Simon Katich found the fence with a lofted drive off the bowling of Bell, then when Giles was brought on he was very quick to get down the pitch to cover the rough outside the left-hander’s off stump and drive handsomely through midwicket. As news percolated through that Simon Jones had gone to hospital for treatment, Michael Clarke got right up on his toes to pound a short ball from Harmison past point for four and reduce the deficit below 80.

A period of almost eight overs without a boundary was brought to an end when Clarke flicked a short ball from Hoggard past the diving Strauss at point to take the Australian second innings beyond 200 and the fifth wicket partnership to 40. Vaughan turned to Flintoff once more and Clarke could so easily have dragged on to the final ball of his over but the ball slid off the inside edge to fine leg.

A change of ends for Giles brought a flurry of runs for Australia as Clarke flat-batted through the off side for successive fours to take the partnership beyond the half-century, then Geraint Jones missed a regulation stumping when he failed to gather the ball cleanly with Clarke drawn forward completely out of his ground.

Simon Katich enjoyed his share of good fortune when he bottom-edged Giles between wicket-keeper and a wide first slip, but with the total on 222-4, the cloud that had been growing darker for some time finally closed in and brought play to a premature close.

England had rammed home their advantage during the first half of the day, but the afternoon had seen a series of stubborn if not quite decisive partnerships allow Australia to gain a foothold in the contest, still in deep, deep trouble but with some hope. Neither Katich nor Clarke looked particularly solid, but both were still there and with Gilchrist still to come, it’s not inconceivable that the visitors could still be batting on Sunday afternoon and giving Shane Warne something to bowl at.

England ended the day minus Simon Jones and Matthew Hoggard, both nursing ankle injuries. With more cloud forecast for tomorrow, they will hope that both can be patched up for what could be England’s best opportunity for a generation to get at least one hand on the precious Urn.

Match Summary – Day 3

England 477
Flintoff 102, G Jones 85, Trescothick 65, Vaughan 58,
Warne 4-102, Tait 3-97

Australia 218
S Jones 5-44, Hoggard 3-70

and 222-4
Langer 61, Clarke 39*, Katich 24*

Australia trail by 39 runs with 6 second innings wickets in hand.

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