Test drifts towards draw

Matthew Hoggard’s devastating spell in the late stages of day three had rekindled the hopes of a result in the second Ashes test, but England needed early wickets on the fourth morning to set up a final day chase for Australia. Adam Gilchrist and Michael Clarke resumed with the score at 312-5, and struggled through a difficult half hour against Flintoff and Hoggard.

Both seamers remained permanantly around the wicket to Gilchrist, working on the plan which restricted the Australian ‘keeper-batsman so well in 2005, but couldn’t manage an early breakthrough. Gilchrist’s closest call came with an outside edge that fell inches short of Ian Bell in the gully, and he also survived a close LBW shout from the bowling of Hoggard. Gilchrist played watchfully through the early period however, and after just 13 runs in the first 8 overs of the day he cut loose, striking successive boundaries from Steve Harmison.

With Flintoff down on pace and soon out of the attack the pressure on the Australian batsmen eased, and Gilchrist began to dominate, moving from 28 to his half-century in just 14 deliveries. With Clarke happy to provide him with the strike, Gilchrist stuck two more ominous boundaries before slightly mistiming one from Giles, straight to Ian Bell on the midwicket fence. The innings of 64 was of minimal significance to the outcome of the match, but it is the first half-century for Gilchrist against England in a series and a half, and the confidence it brings may serve him well in the remaining matches.

Michael Clarke cruised to a sedate fifty at the other end while Gilchrist led the scoring, and when Shane Warne joined him after the wicket he took on the senior role. It was an unusually circumspect innings from Warne, striking a single boundary in 27 deliveries before lunch, and playing second-fiddle to Clark throughout the middle of the day. It was a crucial partnership for Australia, as they gradually took any chance of an England win out of the equation, helped in part by surprisingly defensive fields and lacklustre bowling. The pair managed to add 85 runs in the middle session with only the one loss, when Warne fell with the final delivery before tea. Michael Clarke moved to 121 in this period, compiling his finest test innings since his debut.

While runs have come easily to many batsmen on this benign surface, Clarke played with particular authority, unphased by the new ball on the third evening and the reverse swing of Matthew Hoggard today, and offering no chances before he slashed a Hoggard delivery after tea to Giles at midwicket to end his innings. It will have confirmed his place in the third test in Perth, and placed pressure on Damien Martyn to keep his spot in the middle order.

Following Clarke’s dismissal, Hoggard grabbed two more to help wrap up the tail and raise his tally for the innings to seven. Hoggard did a fantastic job on a flat wicket with minimal support, toiling through nearly 40 overs and rarely straying from his line, and troubling each batsman who faced him. At the beginning of this test his average in tests in Australia was close to 100, but there can be no questioning of his credentials in Australian conditions now. Despite Hoggard’s good form, England will be concerned by the performance of their best bowler in Brisbane, Andrew Flintoff. Flintoff bowled slower than normal in his morning spell and spent large parts of the day off the field, not returning for another spell at any point.

England faced 19 overs before stumps, with little to gain from their time at the crease beyond batting practice, but they gave calm assurance that a major collapse and an Australian victory on the final day was unlikely. Lee and McGrath beat the bat with the new ball but failed to dislodge either opener, and Shane Warne once again mixed the memorable with the uncharacteristically wayward in a brief spell before stumps. Stuart Clark continued his tremendous form however, removing Cook with a regulation edge to Gilchrist and leaving England one wicket down in their second innings with a day to play.

Score Summary
England 550-6 dec.
Paul Collingwood 206, Kevin Pietersen 158
Stuart Clark 3-75, Brett Lee 1-139

Australia 513
Ricky Ponting 142, Michael Clarke 124
Matthew Hoggard 7-109, Andrew Flintoff 1-82

England 59-1
Andrew Strauss 31*, Ian Bell 18*
Stuart Clark 1-13

England lead by 97 runs with one day remaining.
Australia lead the five test series 1-0.

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