England require five wickets this afternoon to wrap up their first Ashes victory at Lord's in 75 years after Michael Clarke provided an obdurate resistance for Australia yesterday. Andrew Strauss's side looked poised to complete victory with a day to spare after reducing the visitors to 128 for five in pursuit of an unlikely 522 for victory. But Clarke, the tourists' vice captain, made an exquisite 125 not out and shared a partnership of 185 with Brad Haddin (80 not out) for the sixth wicket to take Australia on 313 for five when bad light called for an early close.
The expected victory, however, could be claimed at a heavy price. Andrew Flintoff bowled heroically through the pain barrier yesterday but required treatment on his troublesome right knee after his first seven overs and again at lunch. He will be wrapped in cotton wool between now and England's next assignment at Edgbaston next week. Kevin Pietersen continues to be hampered by an Achilles problem and he also left the field yesterday for treatment to his back. He is in danger of ending his unbroken sequence of 54 successive Test matches.
The England selectors will give both players the maximum opportunity to be fit for the third Test but they will already be drawing up a contingency plan. Ian Bell would be the obvious replacement for Pietersen, which would probably see the Warwickshire right-hander bat at three and Ravi Bopara drop down to No 4. The all-round qualities of Flintoff would be more difficult to replace but the pace and bounce of Steve Harmison would make him a prime replacement.
On the rival front, the form of Mitchell Johnson will be the biggest concern for captain Ricky Ponting who is likely to have the fit-again pair of Shane Watson and Brett Lee at his disposal for the three-day game against Northants starting on Friday. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Cricket s8-9