x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Superb Clarke holds up England

Australia vice-captain Michael Clarke struck a defiant hundred to block England's victory bid in the second Ashes Test.

LONDON // Michael Clarke provided a fly in the ointment for England yesterday by producing a magnificent rearguard innings of an unbeaten 125 to ensure Andrew Strauss's side will have to return this afternoon to complete victory. Clarke is viewed as the heir apparent to Ricky Ponting and he compiled the sort of innings yesterday that the Australian captain has made his trademark. In tandem with Brad Haddin (80 not out), his century rescued the tourists from a perilous position and prevented them from suffering the ignominy of a defeat inside four days as bad light prevented play, 11 overs before the scheduled close. In bringing up his first century in a Test match in England, the right-hander was impressive against the swinging ball and used his feet expertly against the spin of Graeme Swann. England will be keen to avoid any anxious moments by removing the vice captain as quickly as possible today. Until Clarke came to the crease England looked to be marching inexorably to their first win over the old enemy at Lord's since 1934. Despite setting a daunting target of 522, England were always going to need a slice of luck to win this match and they had more in the first two sessions yesterday than most teams benefit from in an entire series. Simon Katich was caught off a no ball, Phillip Hughes was unlucky to be given out caught at slip off an edge that looked like it bounced just before Strauss, while Mike Hussey appeared to hit the ground, and not the ball, from a spinning delivery sent down by Swann that ended up in the hands of Paul Collingwood at slip. Just to compound Australia's woes, Ponting dragged a harmless delivery from Stuart Broad onto his own stumps having made an effortless 38. Although Ponting will believe the cricketing gods are conspiring against his side, England, having suffered some chastening experiences at the hands of Australia, will not be bothered one iota how victory arrives. All the pre-match discussion had centred upon the fitness of Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen. It was therefore entirely apposite that the pair combined for the first wicket of the day. Flintoff enticed a loose drive from Katich and Pietersen made no mistake in the gully. The catch would have exorcised a few demons for Pietersen who dropped three chances the last time the two sides met at this ground. The fielders behind the wicket were in business again soon after when Hughes edged Flintoff to Strauss at first slip. Replays showed the ball may have bounced fractionally before it reached the England captain. The decision to give him out will have done little to improve the simmering mood of Ponting who stood at the other end. Incredibly for a man who has amassed more than 11,000 Test runs, Ponting has never scored a half-century at Lord's. Broad ensured Ponting, who will be 38 by the time Australia return to these shores, is most likely to head into retirement with a top score of just 42 at the most famous ground in cricket. England knew the Australia captain was the one player who could deny them victory and their celebrations at his departure demonstrated the value they place on his wicket. It was quite a scalp for Broad to get and bring up his 50th Test wicket. Only Ian Botham has reached the landmark at a younger age for England. Hussey attempted to play his way back into some kind of form by spending some valuable time at the crease but he never looked convincing during his 63-ball 27. To his credit, Hussey did not show any dissent when his vigil was controversially brought to an end by a combination of Swann and Collingwood. Marcus North hung around long enough to avoid bagging a dreaded pair but was bowled on six by a wonderful piece of flight and deception by Swann.

kaffleck@thenational.ae