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The Ashes 2009 3rd Test: Clarke And North Put Australia Safe

By on August 4, 2009

The Ashes 2009 - Michael Clarke

Australia 263 and 293 for 4 (Clarke 73*, North 64*) lead England 376 by 180 runs…

Short of a final session meltdown, Australia have saved the third Test. Michael Clarke and Marcus North combined for an unbroken 132-run fifth-wicket stand to bat through an extended second session and steer the tourists to a position of safety.

England’s bowlers were unable to recreate the magic of day two, in which they swung the Australian batsmen into submission with such force that hopes of an improbable victory in this rain-marred Test were temporarily revived. But despite the heavy overhead conditions on Monday, neither James Anderson nor Graham Onions could convince the suddenly stubborn Duke to swing, making life far easier for the Australian batsmen, four of whom notched second innings half centuries.

The brisk tempo of previous sessions was absent on the final day, as Australia’s batsmen sought to grind the life out of the match. First Shane Watson and Michael Hussey, then Clarke and North, batted with patience and caution in their attempt to deny England an inflated series lead ahead of the Headingley Test, beginning on Friday. By tea, Australia had advanced to 293 for four, holding an over all lead of 180 runs. England’s hopes of a 2-0 lead had all but vanished.

The second session was notable for the relative ease with which the Australian batsmen muzzled England’s attack and an injury scare to Andrew Flintoff. The England all-rounder, who is understood to have had two further pain-killing injections to his troublesome right knee prior to this match, fell awkwardly on his left ankle on the follow-through last ball of his 13th over. Flintoff required the better part of 30 seconds to climb back to his feet and appeared in significant discomfort, but managed to bowl a further two overs in the session.

Clarke (73 not out) and North (64 not out) were seldom threatened by an England attack bowling line-up that struggled to extract any life from the Edgbaston pitch. Their efforts built on the foundations laid by Watson and Hussey, who guided Australia through testing periods either side of stumps on day four and towards the draw they had so desperately sought.

Watson and Hussey showed steely intent from the outset on Monday, weathering several painful blows to the body from Flintoff but remained commendably unflustered in this most pressurised of situations. Flintoff attempted to engage both batsmen in verbal jousts but, conscious that the entire series may well have been riding on the three sessions, both quelled their aggressive instincts and refused to bite. Theirs was a mission of survival, not open combat, and both succeeded in navigating a path through a testing first hour of play from Flintoff and Graeme Swann.

Admittedly, neither bowler scaled the dizzying heights they had previously occupied this series – Flintoff, for all his intimidatory powers, strayed short too often while Swann failed to settle upon a consistent length – but given the respective situations in which Watson and Hussey found themselves at the crease, both could have been well pleased with their morning contributions.

Watson was a controversial selection to open in place of Phillip Hughes, in a move deemed by many to have been motivated as much by insuring against another Mitchell Johnson blow-out as improving Australia’s top-order. Having previously batted no higher than No. 6 in Test cricket, and with a sub-five average opening for Queensland, Watson was in the crosshairs of both a sceptical Australian public and England’s bowlers from the moment he marked centre on Thursday.

He did not disappoint. His fluent first innings total of 62 was complemented by a gritty, redoubtable 53 in the second, during which he was peppered by the ever aggressive Flintoff. Having seen off the new ball the previous evening, Watson defended stoically in the lead-up to lunch. His patience was eventually rewarded with a rare full-toss from Swann, which he duly dispatched to the boundary to raise his second half-century of the match, and just the third of his Test career.

Watson’s defiance ended a ball later, however, when Anderson found the outside edge with a delivery that subtly straightened in his first over of the morning. With the ball stubbornly refusing to swing despite the heavy overhead conditions, England’s bowlers were forced to rely on seam movement, rather than aerial, for the majority of the morning; a promising sign for the Australian batsmen.

Hussey, desperate to atone for is first innings duck, played a more aggressive hand, striking six boundaries on Monday morning to advance to his second half-century of the series. But, like Watson, his stay at the crease would end soon after his arrival at the milestone.

Stuart Broad’s introduction to the attack in the 51st over might not have said much for the esteem in which Andrew Strauss holds his bowling, but the allrounder showed up both his captain and the Australians with an angling delivery that brushed the outside edge of Hussey, sending him back to the pavilion for 64. The dismissal brought the Edgbaston crowd momentarily back to life, however all were promptly subdued as Clarke and North carried their bats through to the tea break.

Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo

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