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Australia closes in on 2-0 lead

England shows some fight but ends fourth day on 247/6, chasing an improbable 531 for victory

Australia closes in on 2-0 lead - Cricket News
Australia celebrates top-scorer of England, Joe Root's wicket.
After a couple of days that were cricket’s equivalent of base-jumping, Adelaide Oval finally paused to draw breath. Days two and three of this second Ashes Test had thrilled with aggressive centuries to Brad Haddin and Michael Clarke, a cavalier 55 not out from Ryan Harris, Mitchell Johnson’s devastation of England with a display of fast bowling that will live decades in the memory, then 83 in a session from David Warner to carry Australia to a massive lead.
 
Mitchell Johnson had suggested that Australia would bat on until lunch on day four, but with some hints of showers forecast, Clarke declared on Sunday morning (December 8), about ten minutes before the start of play. The equation was simple: two full days batting for England to draw, an unlikely 531 to win. By day’s end, Australia had prised out England’s top six, leaving it four wickets to claim on Monday for a 2-0 lead. England’s 247 for 6 was the first time it had topped 180 this series.
 
Often a batting rout like England endured in its first innings is followed by something more circumspect, as bowlers ride their adrenaline comedown and summon the physical effort for another innings, while batsmen prepare to bat long without tactical considerations clouding their minds.
 
This was the pattern of today, as England made Australia work through 90 overs without the instant gratification that fuelled it on Saturday. The sessions built in momentum to a boisterous finish, with the beleaguered Matt Prior and Stuart Broad at the crease finding some feisty runs as a stadium willed Johnson on.
 
At first another Fast and the Furious day looked likely, as Alastair Cook hooked at Johnson’s third ball to send a top edge soaring to fine leg. Ryan Harris almost ended up standing on his head, but hung onto the catch to leave England at 1 for 1 in the second over. It meant that England’s captain had fallen to Johnson twice this match while scoring a solitary run. If he was distracted by unexpectedly being asked to bat, such is the luxury of the team with the upper hand.
 
Michael Carberry followed in similar fashion, pulling a Peter Siddle delivery high to the boundary for Nathan Lyon to skid in for an excellent low catch. England was 20 for 2 after 12 overs, and sliding faster than Lyon. But Joe Root and Kevin Pietersen got together for England’s first 50-run partnership of the match, taking it through to lunch, then another 20 overs into the afternoon session to stretch the stand to 111.
 
Lyon’s sharp turn was negotiated, Johnson was kept at bay by Root with only a few tremors, and Steve Smith came on for a couple of spells that allowed Pietersen to lift three of the rankest offerings into the crowd. Root raised his fifty from 113 balls, while Pietersen took 90 for his.
 
But Peter Siddle has dismissed Pietersen more than any other bowler, and he took that tally to nine when an indifferent push at a length ball ricocheted into the stumps with the batsman on 53. At 153 for 3 England needed a repeat of Ian Bell’s first-innings gem, but the man who is now its key wicket couldn’t get off to the same fluent start. With Smith coming back for his third spell to irritate Bell’s dislike of legspin, Bell tried to repeat his first-innings tactic of hitting Smith out of the attack. Instead he whacked a low full toss to mid-on for Johnson to take another good catch, leaving the arena for 6.
 
It was after tea that this match’s liveliness returned. Root struck a couple of lovely boundaries after unsettling Lyon’s length, then his shot of the day in a backfoot drive from Johnson to move into the 80s. Stokes was spared a very poor lbw review, before England’s last real hope departed when Root got a faint inside edge to a Lyon delivery that popped up just long enough for a lunging Haddin to scoop a glove beneath it. Root departed 13 runs short of what would have been England’s first century of the tour, a stark contrast to Australia’s four.
 
Several gifts were handed to Stokes, the debutant. Four overthrows were added to his score after a gentle push down the wicket, then another wasted review left Australia with no recourse two overs later when a clear lbw shout was turned down. The fate of the shaky Prior drew the crowd’s attention, but the England ‘keeper got off a pair with a whacked boundary, and settled in for his first extended stay in front of the stumps this summer.
 
It only took three overs with the new ball to see off Stokes, caught by Clarke at second slip for 28 to give Harris his first wicket of the match. That left six overs that were the rowdiest of the day, with Johnson bouncing the batsmen repeatedly, Broad clouting three boundaries, Johnson clouting Broad on the shoulder, Prior edging Lyon past leg-slip, then hooking two Johnson boundaries to the fence in the final over.
 
The pair will resume on Monday with Prior on 31, Broad on 22, and the new ball still only ten overs old. Despite the lopsided match situation, it had been an incredibly compelling day of Test cricket. Tomorrow should be a morning’s formality, but with rain still a possibility, the chance of something more tense will largely be down to the two men taking guard. 
 

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