The Reuters global sports blog
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.
When England’s bowlers awoke this morning they would have had the sound of stinging criticism ringing in their ears following their poor performance on day one, but how they responded.
They ripped out nine Australian wickets for the cost of 137 runs as the tourists collapsed from 126 for one overnight to 263 all out, with England closing on 116 for two as bad light cut the day’s play short.
Whatever momentum England had built up over Australia by scraping a draw in Cardiff and then winning convincingly at Lord’s, slowly ebbed away following an insipid display late on a truncated first day’s play of the third Ashes Test in Edgbaston, as Australia rattled along at almost four and a half runs an over to close the day at 126-1.
Ricky Ponting, beset by problems, will have been delighted with his sides response in the face of adversity.
England batsman Kevin Pietersen has been ruled out of the Ashes series after undergoing surgery for an ongoing Achilles tendon injury.
ECB Chief Medical Officer, Nick Peirce, said: “The operation involved a small incision and trimming of the blood vessels and nerves around the inflamed tendon and appears, at this early stage, to have been routine.
Lord’s rose to its feet to acclaim Andrew Flintoff after his five wickets helped England beat Australia by 115 runs to go 1-0 up in the Ashes series.
The home crowd was especially delighted given England had not beaten the old enemy at the home of cricket since 1934.
And England will need all the patience that human nature can muster if they are to wear down and eventually beat this resolute Australian side, which managed to recover from 128 for five to close on 313 with the loss of no further wickets, chasing another 209 runs for victory.
England will go into day four of the second Ashes test in complete control having closed day three on 311 for 6, giving them a massive 521 lead over Australia, who will be asked to chase down a record total to avoid defeat.
Despite bowling out Australia an hour into the morning session, 11 runs short of avoiding the follow-on total of 225, England captain Andrew Strauss decided against asking the tourists to bat again after seeing Australia’s tail-enders play with purpose and in some comfort in clement overhead conditions on what is still a favourable batting surface.
I’m still unsure as to whether England’s first innings total of 425 is a good score on what is essentially still a flat Lord’s track, but with Australia 156 for 8 at the close of play on the second the home side can be proud of their efforts so far.
Australia took just 11 overs of the morning session on day two to polish off England’s tail, as Andrew Strauss, unbeaten on 161 overnight, Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad, provided little resistance to some good swing bowling by Ben Hilfenhaus.
There is never a bad Australian side, I keep hearing, and I’m starting to believe it after the tourists put on another display of sheer bloody mindness in another see-sawing day for England’s batsmen and fans, who will be left drained with mixed feelings, while Australian supporters will feel no less tumultuous.
And if there’s never a bad Australian side then it’s nice to see that even after a hundred-odd years, the tradition of the good old English batting collapse is still going strong with no hint of abating.
There is no doubt England will miss Andrew Flintoff’s never-say-die attitude, enthusiasm and willpower he brings to the dressing room, but the team could end up being more settled following his test retirement after the Ashes.
Management will no longer have to ponder the “what if he is available?” conundrum.