England 215 & 375 (Bell 109) v
Australia 280 & 174-6 (Broad 2-34)
First Test, Trent Bridge, day four
A late triple-strike by England put them on course for victory in the opening Ashes Test at Trent Bridge.
Australia were going well in their pursuit of 311, but the wickets of Michael Clarke, Steve Smith and Phil Hughes within the space of three overs meant that they reached stumps on 174 for six - still 137 short of victory.
However, with a lower order consisting of men with first-class batting averages of around the 20 mark, England will be mindful that there could yet be many more twists in this astonishing Test match.
A blazing-hot fourth day began with Ian Bell and Stuart Broad at the crease and they extended their seventh-wicket partnership to 138 before Broad edged James Pattinson through to Brad Haddin. Bell completed his century, surely one of the best of his career, and was next out for 109, with Peter Siddle dispensing with Graeme Swann and James Anderson in the 150th over to finish with figures of three for 85.
It was then that the day’s real action began and it was Australia who had by far the better of the opening exchanges. Chris Rogers and Shane Watson saw off the new ball and played with relative freedom during an opening partnership of 84 in 24 overs.
Watson’s innings was its usual boundary-laden affair, while Rogers complemented him perfectly, again displaying the best technique of the Australian batsmen on show. England would have been starting to panic midway through the second session with the pair progressing serenely.
However, as would be the case during much of the afternoon, things tended to meander along before exploding suddenly. Rogers and Watson had little difficulty in playing the seamers on a pitch that was by now painfully slow, while Swann was a little off colour and probably bowled too short initially.
It was yesterday’s hero/villain Stuart Broad who gave England the breakthrough. He had Watson rapped on the pad after getting the ball to move back in from over the wicket. Watson called for the review after being given out but was appalled to find Hawkeye suggesting the ball would have clipped leg-stump and walked off shaking his head.
Rogers soon showed him how to deploy DRS and immediately reviewed a caught behind decision off Swann in the next over. The ball looked to have taken the bat on its way through to Matt Prior, but was shown to have flicked the pad instead on TV replays. Any brief hopes that he might have been LBW instead were also soon swiftly rebuffed by Hawkeye and Rogers was reprieved.
Ed Cowan was the next to fall in the passage of play just before tea. He looked by far the most uncomfortable of the Australian batsmen during his scratchy innings of 14. It was finally brought to an end by Joe Root, who was introduced into the attack when Cowan had seen off the initial efforts of the England bowlers to dislodge him.
He went for a drive out of the rough and edged a catch to Jonathan Trott at slip. Root roared off on a lap of honour to celebrate a maiden Test wicket which had, once again, evened up the contest.
Rogers reached his maiden Test fifty after tea and continues to look ridiculously at home at this level. He was caught, though, off James Anderson with what looked initially like a careless flick to mid-wicket. On closer inspection, however, it appeared that Anderson had rolled his fingers over the ball to take some pace off and that it was pre-planned between him and bowling coach David Saker during the tea interval.
Michael Clarke and Steve Smith then began another one of those passages of play where England didn’t look like taking a wicket. Swann was again successfully nullified, while even a much-improved second spell from the under-utilised Steven Finn - he had bowled just three overs until this point - was unable to break them.
That all changed suddenly when Broad had Clarke feathering a catch through to Prior. Clarke used up Australia’s second review when he sent the decisions upstairs, after first checking the ball had carried to Prior on an increasingly dead pitch, only to see Hot Spot show the tiniest of white marks on the edge of his bat.
Smith then fell LBW the following delivery to Swann, missing a sharply-spun off-break that would have hit middle stump.
The dismissal of Phil Hughes then completed the crazy passage of play. He was also trapped on the crease by Swann against a ball that turned appreciably and, after some debate about whether it pitched in line with leg-stump, was sent packing. Swann suddenly looked like he was bowling on a different pitch and was not only getting the ball to spin but do so relatively quickly.
At this point, with around half an hour left in the day and Swann looking back to his best, England would have had hopes of taking the extra half hour and wrapping up victory inside four days. Brad Haddin and first innings history-maker Ashton Agar, though, saw the tourists through until the close to set up what could well be a tense final day.
© Cricket World 2013