England grinds but draw looms in third Ashes Test

England bossed the fourth day of the third Ashes Test but previous rain delays will probably prevent them claiming victory… unless Australia conspires to collapse on the fifth day, as they sometimes do.

Australia closed on two for 88 in its second dig, still trailing England on th first innings by 25 runs with one day of 98 overs to come. The Australians will be planning to bat until at least tea tomorrow to ensure that they don’t go 0-2 down in the series with two Tests to come.

After rain washed out the third day, Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell resumed with England two for 116 chasing Australia’s less than adequate 263. It wouldn’t be a day of Australian bowling without a terrible umpiring decision denying them a wicket by Rudi Koertzen, and so it proved with Ian Bell again surviving a highly adjacent LBW shout from Mitchell Johnson, under much the same circumstances as Koertzen’s non-decision on day two.

Under an improved opening barrage from the Australian attack, Strauss (69) was the first to go, leaving his bat hanging to a Ben Hilfenhaus delivery which kissed his gloves and was taken by keeper Graham Manou. Hilfenhaus then had Collingwood (13) caught at second slip by Ricky Ponting from a wide, pitched-up delivery.

Then it was the turn of Johnson to finally get Bell. For the third time in the innings, he trapped Bell playing across his pads to an inswinger that straightened down the line of the stumps, presenting Rudi Koertzen with an easy decision. It was a case of third time lucky for Johnson, as Bell (53) was belatedly sent walking by the veteran South African umpire’s slowly raised finger.

The score was then five for 168, with England still trailing by 95 and all the specialist batsmen back in the pavilion. Enter Andrew Flintoff, who joined keeper Matt Prior for an 89-run sixth wicket partnership that snuffed out any though by the Australians of snatching any sort of victory. First Peter Siddle and then Shane Watson bowled too full to Flintoff, allowing him to play himself in with five fours in the V in front of the wicket.

As the England total neared Australia’s, the two batsmen started playing more extravagant shots, and it was one of these that did for Prior (41), who toe-ended a pull from Siddle to mid on. Stuart Broad joined Flintoff and they put on a further 52 runs for the seventh wicket with some clubbing shots against tired, inaccurate bowling.

Flintoff (74) eventually fell to a surprisingly bouncy delivery from Hauritz, which deflected off his gloves gently to slip where Michael Clarke accepted the catch. The Australians then allowed another stand of 39 between Broad and Graeme Swann and the last five wickets ended up putting on 208 runs, last man out being Broad (55) caught and bowled by Siddle. England had a lead of 113 on the first innings.

The Australian openers started breezily, but rode their luck somewhat with some wafty shots to bowling that had lost most of the swing and cut that had so troubled the tourists on day two. Simon Katich (26) eventually nicked a well-placed but straight Graeme Onions delivery to Prior after a 47-run opening stand.

Ponting (5) came out to boos from the English supporters and took three runs off his first ball, but he played far too far outside a Swann off-spinner that spat from the rough, and was bowled through the gate. Michael Hussey faced his first ball from Onions on a king pair after a golden duck in the first innings. Hussey edged into his pad, causing the ball to balloon up and tease the diving Onions by falling mere inches in front of his outreached fingers.

Hussey then drove the second ball he faced through mid on for four, but it wasn’t until a wayward Onions over where he struck three good boundaries that he really looked anywhere near settled. If the English bowlers don’t get a lot more movement either off the pitch or through the air on the fifth day, they will have to be satisfied with a 1-0 series lead.