Late wickets lift England in victory pursuit
Australia 280 and 174 for 6 (Rogers 52, Broad 2-34) need 137 more runs to beat England 215 and 375
Four days of enthralling, gut-wrenching and at times quite remarkable Ashes cricket came to rest at Trent Bridge with England favourites to take a 1-0 lead in the Investec Test series. Favourites, but not so confident that they would sleep soundly. Nobody sleeps soundly at the start of an Ashes series.
Australia will begin the final day still 137 runs short of victory with four wickets left, aware that the first Test tilted towards England in the final hour when they accounted for Michael Clarke, Steve Smith and Phillip Hughes within 17 balls. "Cut off the serpent's head," Graeme Swann had urged before the series began and the loss of Clarke, caught at the wicket off Stuart Broad, caused the Australian body to begin thrashing.
Clarke's dismissal possessed the high drama that already this series is producing at will. The umpire, Aleem Dar, strolled to square leg to discuss whether the ball had carried to Matt Prior, and it was such a critical juncture that he would have probably asked for a TV verdict if he had caught it above his head. Then Clarke upped the tension by reviewing, only for the third umpire, Marais Erasmus, to confirm the decision dint of the lightest mark on Hot Spot and by audio.
Steven Smith followed to the next ball - the first wicket for Swann, in his 22nd over. Swann has never made a match-winning contribution at Trent Bridge, his home ground, and even though this worn pitch seemed made for him, it was so pedestrian that it allowed time to adjust, and left the shrewdest, most adaptable batsmen scenting that runs were possible.
But, uplifted by Clarke's dismissal, Swann suddenly summoned more turn. Smith fell lbw on the back foot and Hughes followed for 0, the ball just pitching on leg stump and spinning back sharply for another lbw verdict.
No side had ever scored as many as 311 in the last innings to win a Test at Trent Bridge, but the heavy roller further deadened the pitch for a prolonged period and Australia also drew sustenance from the hottest day of the year and a lack of extravagant swing for the new ball.
Their first task was to gnaw away at England's expectations and they did so impressively in a first-wicket stand of 84 between Shane Watson and Chris Rogers. They lost Watson by tea but even that was unfortunate, as he fell to a marginal lbw decision for Broad.
Whereas Watson departed for 46 with sorrowful shakes of the head after his review narrowly failed to overturn Dar's lbw decision, Rogers did win a reprieve on 38 in the following over. He is a survivor: the gnarled gunslinger who pops out briefly from behind a rock and then disappears from view again.
"Caught behind?" he mouthed at Kumar Dharmasena after the umpire had upheld Swann's appeal. Lbw or caught behind, it did not matter; replays found him innocent on all counts.
Australia's new opening combination has already developed a presence. They complement each other naturally and not just because they are right and left-handed. Watson is a domineering figure, always eager to take up the cudgels; Rogers is more furtive, using his wealth of experience to maximum effect.
Upon Watson's exit, Ed Cowan came in on a pair. His first Ashes Test had brought him little pleasure: a first-ball duck and bouts of nausea. For 15 balls, he wondered where his first run would come from but then Steven Finn released the pressure with a short wide one that he gratefully despatched.
On the brink of tea, England's conviction that they could win the first Test soared - and it came from an unlikely source. Joe Root's first Test wicket could hardly have come at a more opportune time. Cowan, enticed into a drive against an offspinner that turned out of the rough, edged to first slip.
England's morning had been one of jubilation. As they added a further 51 for their last four wickets, two batsmen walked off to standing ovations as recognition of efforts largely made the previous day. But for Ian Bell and Stuart Broad, the messages were very different.
The applause for Bell was appreciative, regard for perhaps the finest innings he has ever played for England, the deftest of Ashes hundreds made when England needed it most. The ovation for Stuart Broad carried more meaning: a significant show of public support on a day when he was castigated in the media for allegedly betraying the spirit of cricket for not walking when Dar erroneously gave him not out for a blatant edge to first slip, off the wicketkeeper's gloves, on the third evening.
If Broad was going to receive public support anywhere, it was from his home crowd in Nottingham but when he edged James Pattinson to Brad Haddin on 65 and approached the old pavilion, he will have been moved by the response.
At stumps, Clarke offered unabashed support to Broad on Sky TV. "I've always been a believer that umpires are there to take decisions," he said. "If everybody walked, we wouldn't need umpires. It is an individual decision but I don't think any less of Stuart for what he did."
They were wise words: less than an hour earlier, Clarke had also legitimately stood his ground when he probably knew he had hit it. His edge was considerably less obvious than Broad's but personal morality cannot be decided but how obvious something is. For Australia, though, frustration was understandable. The odds favoured England from the moment that Bell and Broad amassed their seventh-wicket stand of 138 in 48 overs.
If the Broad furore made him the victim of overstatement, Bell's 109, his 18th Test hundred, possessed understated excellence. He was 95 not out overnight and could not have hoped for any more munificence than the present offered up by Mitchell Starc with the second ball of the day, a low full toss which Bell carved through gully to reach 99. He scampered a hundred off a misfield in Starc's next over. Starc finally silenced him, caught at the wicket, but not before he had reprised the deft cover drives and back cuts which had been the hallmark of his innings.
Broad, 47 not out at start of play, passed 50 to rousing cheers when he edged between Watson and Clarke at first and second slip. Australia must have reflected that it was not the time for the two, who have not always seen eye to eye, to behave to each other with infinite politeness.
When Broad fell for 65, edging a back-foot force at Pattinson, Australia rounded up the rest within nine overs. England's innings ended when Swann again invited Watson and Clarke to take a slip catch, both dived and this time Clarke came up with the ball.