Asked to make 299 to win, Australia got off to such a flier that Chris Rogers, their centurion of the first innings, and David Warner added 109 for the first wicket, reducing the target from what, on a pitch that remained helpful throughout, ought to have been notional to one where they had brought it into range. What followed almost defied belief as Australia capitulated first to Graeme Swann, and then to Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan.
Broad, whose five wickets in the first innings had bowled England back into the match, produced a magical spell of six for 20 in 45 deliveries that helped reduce Australia from 147 for one at one stage to 181 for seven, 199 for eight, 211 for nine and 224 all out. The tea-time wigging that the side must have received from Andy Flower and, probably, the bowling coach clearly worked: he pitched the ball up, found some sideways movement, and bowled straight. Job done.
Broad deserved to complete the job although he was almost unable to do so. As they pushed to end things, clouds hovered low over the ground, blocking the evening sun and, with England having taken the extra half hour allowed them in the event of a likely finish, causing the umpires to consult their light meters. It was gloomy for Australia in more ways than one. Alastair Cook turned to Joe Root's offspin to accompany Swann. A run out was missed as Matt Prior fumbled an inaccurate throw. The crowd groaned.
Would the game be completed? Or would the circus remain in town for one more night? The sun reappeared and the shadows stretched out. On came Jimmy Anderson, a great bowler who has endured hard times in the past few weeks since his heroics of Trent Bridge. Peter Siddle cuffed him away to the fence as if swatting a mosquito. A catch went tantalisingly close to Bresnan at wide mid-on. Broad came back and three balls later, at 7.40, Anderson took the catch offered by Siddle to deepish mid-on that brought victory. England had won by 74 runs, Broad finishing with six for 50 and 11 for 121 in the match. Australia had lost nine for 104 in the final frenetic session of 35.3 overs.
The teams must now go to The Oval for the final Test beginning next Wednesday with Australia knowing that not only have they lost three successive Ashes series now, but four of the last five. Having reached positions of such hope both at Old Trafford and at the Riverside, it must be devastating for them and they will have a job picking themselves up.
England, for their part, will know that they have managed to win three of four Tests in this series without approaching the standard of cricket they produced in Australia last time. Perhaps after all it is just a reflection of the quality or otherwise of the Australians.
Sometimes one decision, made out of instinct, reason or desperation, can change the course of a match. It can also make fools of even the greatest luminaries the game has to offer. When, deep into the final session, Cook told Swann to take his sweater and handed the ball to Bresnan it appeared to many that he had taken leave of his senses. Cook's seamers had been largely innocuous while Swann had at least removed Rogers and Usman Khawaja: if England had a match winner (and it was not looking good at that stage) then surely it would be the offspinner. At the crease though was Warner, batting out of his skin for 71, and who had taken the attack to Swann when first he appeared, and Michael Clarke, one of the finest players of spin of his generation.
The reasoning was clear even if the execution was less so given what had preceded. Cook and England got lucky. Bresnan's fourth ball, on a length and, from wide of the crease, angled across the lefthanded Warner and bounced a little more than expected. Warner pushed at it and Matt Prior took the catch gleefully. The captain made a double change, bringing on Broad in place of Jimmy Anderson, who was getting nowhere. Four overs later, drinks came and went and with the first delivery of the restart, Broad found the sort of dream ball produced by Anderson at Trent Bridge to dismiss Clarke and Ryan Harris had pulled out of the hat for Joe Root. It pitched on off stump, held its line, and clipped the top of the same stump. Not even the best can play those and Broad wheeled away in celebration.
Broad can do this to teams but it began such a calamitous clatter of wickets that the Australian batsmen did not so much occupy the crease as pop their heads round the door and disappear back to the dressing room again.
This was Broad at his inevitable best, someone who becomes irresistible when he gets the sniff of a chance. Steve Smith went lbw; Shane Watson went likewise (of course) to Bresnan, although on a tight umpires call; and then Brad Haddin, equally tight on an umpires call, and sufficiently displeased to express that sentiment to Tony Hill the umpire, went likewise again. Harris, for the second time in the game, was indisputably plumb in front and Nathan Lyon had his leg stump uprooted and turning cartwheels towards Prior. It was, frankly, mind-blowing, unthinkable even as England's field scattered under Warner's assault.
England had lost Ian Bell in the first session for 113, but Bresnan, putting bat firmly to ball made 45 runs to give England some leeway and Swann clobbered 30 before the innings ended on 330, 96 runs having come in a shade over 21 overs. The redoubtable Harris ended with seven for 117, the best figures by an Australian in an Ashes Test since Glenn McGrath's seven for 76 at Headingley in 2001. That will be scant consolation but he has been heroic.
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