Can England take a 2-0 Ashes lead?
A stunning day’s Test cricket, wasn’t it? If there was ever any doubt over the status of the longest form of the game then Sunday’s play will have washed away concerns.
You simply don’t get this sort of story told, with its twists and turns, at a Twenty20 match or a 50-over game for that matter. It had everything; wickets, runs, hostility, sledging and a dramatic finale that leaves a positive result to this rain interrupted Test match still possible.
Australia closed day four on 88 for 2 in their second innings, still 25 runs behind England’s first innings total of 376, and they will attempt to bat out the final day in order to save this match.
The draw is still favourite, but England have given themselves a whiff of an opportunity, by way of their aggressive batting and attacking bowling. Led by the bruise brothers Andrew Flintoff and Matt Prior, who smashed 89 off almost as many balls, England clawed their way back from the precipice of 168 for five to post a 113 run first innings lead over the Australians.
It was scenario that seemed most unlikely after the start of play was delayed for an hour. Then Australia’s bowlers got to work in a tight first session, creating pressure, which brought the wickets of Andrew Strauss and Paul Collingwood, to leave England 159 for 4 at lunch.
It wasn’t long after the restart that the fifth wicket fell and England looked in trouble.
Ian Bell, who had so much luck in surviving three huge lbw appeals that he should go out and buy himself a lottery ticket, eventually fell as the umpire found the fourth appeal too tempting to turn down, with Bell once more caught on his front pad striding across his stumps to a swinging delivery, and he went for 53.
Bell’s batting is all grace and elegance but still has the innate vulnerability that could see his international future curtailed. Yet again he failed to make a century when his side really needed it.
Cue the blistering partnership between Prior (41) and Flintoff (74) to guide England out of stormy waters, ably assisted by a resilient lower order, including a half century for the under pressure Stuart Broad.
That left Australia a hugely tricky final two hours to negotiate before the close.
Tempers boiled as the atmosphere turned red-hot. The crowd and England players cranked up the pressure on the Australian top order.
However, the baying supporters had to wait for the first wicket of Australia’s second innings, as Simon Katich and Shane Watson resisted James Anderson’s and Andrew Flintoff’s early advances.
Enter Graham Onions. His wicket-to-wicket bowling drew Katich into a loose drive just outside off-stump, which he edged to wicket keeper Prior leaving Australia on 47 for 1.
That brought Ricky Ponting to the crease, but a brilliant over from Graeme Swann made sure the Australian captain’s stay at the crease was brief.
Bowling a tight line outside off stump and drawing Ponting forward, the Australian captain survived one massive lbw appeal. But two balls later Swann got a delivery to nip back through the gate and knock back Ponting’s middle stump and Australia were 52 for 2.
Mike Hussey arrived at the crease on a king pair and would have departed for a duck had Onions been able to take a stunning return catch.
As it was Watson and Hussey survived till stumps, but they know they have much work to do if Australia are to escape with a draw.
Can Australia survive or will the ball swing for England and allow them to seal an unlikely victory on the final day?
PHOTO: Australia’s Mitchell Johnson (R) exchanges words with England’s Andrew Flintoff during the fourth day of the third Ashes cricket Test match at Edgbaston, Birmingham August 2, 2009. REUTERS/Philip Brown