x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Clarke leads great escape for Australia

The fans came in their droves expecting a titanic struggle and another dramatic day of epic proportions at Edgbaston.

Australia's batting hero, Michael Clarke, shakes hands with the England captain Andrew Strauss, left, after his century knock helped his side to draw the third Test at Edgbaston.
Australia's batting hero, Michael Clarke, shakes hands with the England captain Andrew Strauss, left, after his century knock helped his side to draw the third Test at Edgbaston.

They came in their droves expecting a titanic struggle and another dramatic day of epic proportions. Four years ago the Edgbaston crowd were treated to one of the greatest Ashes Tests of all time, but alas, there was no repeat on this occasion. That should not detract from the show of courage and determination of the Australia batsmen, who throughout an arduous day at the crease, remained resolute throughout. Faced with the prospect of a second consecutive Test match defeat and an almost impossible fight to retain the Ashes, the tourists stood firm as England's challenge fizzled out with a whimper. Led by the irrepressible Michael Clarke and the gritty Marcus North, Australia rarely threatened to collapse as alarmingly as they had in the first innings. North would have surely had his second century of the series had it not been for a stupendous catch from James Anderson with the Australian on 96. The duo put on a fifth wicket stand of 185 to take the game away from England with Clarke claiming another Test match hundred. Given that Australia started the day 113 runs behind and with two wickets already down, this is a result which will bring some much needed belief to Ricky Ponting's side. Ponting was less than impressed with Andrew Strauss's comments claiming Australia had lost their "aura" and were now "just like any other Test team". Though this current crop may not be as talented as those that have worn the baggy green with such distinction in recent years, there is no doubt that they possess the mental strength to succeed. When Ponting fell to Graeme Swann late on Sunday, the doom merchants were already predicting another Australian failure. That they survived and with so much room to spare speaks volumes of the character within the side and their desire to retain the precious old urn. With the fourth Test starting on Friday, Ponting will hope his men can take the momentum from this performance into the clash at Headingley. Despite losing both Shane Watson and Michael Hussey before lunch, the tourists refused to buckle and soon forged a sizeable lead on a lifeless Edgbaston wicket. Resuming on 88 for two, Australia showed their intention to bat out the day as they set about stifling the England attack. Both Andrew Flintoff and Graham Onions consistently beat the bat with exquisite swing bowling before frustration began to surface. Hussey, who had suffered the ignominy of being dismissed for a duck in the first innings, began to dominate. The 34-year-old left-hander hit Flintoff to the boundary on no less than six separate occasions and soon passed 50 as Australia reeled in the 113-run deficit. At the other end, Watson - who has proved more a more than capable replacement for the out of form Phillip Hughes - reached his half-century as the hosts toiled in the field. It was only with the belated introduction of Anderson that England threatened and when Watson was caught behind for 52, the Edgbaston crowd awoke from their slumber. With their tails up, England roared forward and with Australia on 161, Hussey's resistance was finally ended as he feathered Stuart Broad's delivery into the grateful gloves of Matt Prior. While the partisan Edgbaston crowd chanted "are you Scotland in disguise" at the Australians, Clarke and North put up their very own version of Hadrian's Wall. The outcome may have been different had Strauss not dropped Clarke off the bowling of Ravi Bopara with the Australian on 38. From there on the tourists dominated with even Flintoff unable to inspire another historic victory. Clarke, who batted so beautifully in a hopeless cause at Lord's, showed his undoubted talent with an innings of flair and finesse. That Clarke is being groomed as a future Australia captain should come as no surprise and with Ponting now 34, Clarke's time is surely on the horizon. Now the leading run-scorer in the series, the 28-year-old eased to his 12th Test ton with his 103 not out to add to the 136 he hit in the second Test defeat. North had looked set to achieve a similar feat but his resistance was broken when Anderson took a spectacular diving one-handed catch in the slips off the bowling of Broad. Clarke survived two late scares when he edged Bopara to slip off a no-ball just minutes after Broad had shaved his off-stump. But the vice-captain was not to be denied, remaining undefeated to the last.

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