Clarke fights, then falls, as England eye victory

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> England remain favourites to take a 1-0 lead after Clarke fell from the final ball of the day.

Updated: December 06, 2010 08:02 IST
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Kevin Pietersen gave England every chance of victory in Adelaide with his career-best 227, but it's his bowling that might have made the biggest difference. Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey gave Australia a fighting chance of escaping with a draw to head to the third Test in Perth still 0-0, but the loss of Clarke to the last delivery on the fourth day gave England a major boost amid the gloomy conditions.

Clarke had 80, and was threatening to stand between England and victory, until he inside-edged onto his pad and the ball looped over the shoulder of the short leg Alastair Cook, who took a good catch. Adding to the late drama, the umpire Tony Hill called the appeal not out, but England asked for a review and Clarke was found guilty of putting bat on ball, to hand Pietersen his first Test wicket since 2008.

It was exactly what Australia didn't need, after Clarke and Hussey put together a promising 104-run partnership. Instead of two established men walking out in the morning, the under-pressure Marcus North will join Hussey, who was on 44, with the new ball due at the end of the over Pietersen will complete with four more deliveries. And if that wasn't pressure enough for North, there is a chance of morning showers, which could mean cloud cover and swing.

Australia will be hoping the showers turn into heavier rain, and there is the chance of a thunderstorm in the afternoon. The battle will be ensuring they last that long, with only Brad Haddin and a long tail to follow Hussey and North, who will resume with Australia still 137 runs behind, at 4 for 238, searching for a draw that would feel like a win.

It remains to be seen whether Andrew Strauss will rue his decision to bat into the fourth morning, despite already holding a 300-plus lead. He might have been questioning that call while Hussey and Clarke were together, batting solidly either side of a heavy downpour late in the afternoon. Clarke seemed to have shaken off his poor touch and his bad back, looking comfortable against pace and spin.

And it wasn't easy against Swann, who created the most problems for Australia. He removed Simon Katich and claimed the big wicket of Ricky Ponting, before Steven Finn chipped in by dismissing Shane Watson for another solid half-century that promised to be more. Swann was finding sharp spin from the rough and his drift and flight caused a few headaches for the Australian batsmen.

Several times, inside edges didn't quite fly to hand for the cluster of fielders surrounding the bat, and Clarke was given out caught at slip on 67 only to have the decision reversed on review; the ball had spun past his bat and lobbed up off his pad. Generally, though, Clarke handled Swann well, using his feet to smother the spin and driving hard through gaps on both sides of the wicket.

Importantly, all the Australian batsmen played positively, refusing to simply bat for time and allow England to dictate the flow. Clarke struck 11 boundaries and Hussey, who continued his excellent series, slammed Swann over midwicket for six late in the day, ensuring that any bad balls were put away, as they would be in happier circumstances.

The only batsman who really struggled was Ponting, who was mesmerised by Swann and couldn't get off the mark until his 13th delivery. Despite punishing Swann with a vicious cut for four and a powerful sweep to the boundary, Ponting was eliminated by Swann on 9 when he played for the offspinner and edged a straighter ball low to Paul Collingwood at first slip.

Swann had already ended the 84-run opening partnership when Katich tried to defend and was caught behind off a thin edge for 43. Katich had hobbled his way through the innings with an Achilles tendon injury that severely hampered his running between wickets, and although his hard work was valuable, there is every chance the Australians will need to look for another opener for the third Test in Perth if his problem persists.

The man who threatened to be Australia's anchor was Watson, who batted confidently with his usual aggression and well-timed drives, but once again he failed to convert a strong start. Watson has passed fifty on 15 occasions in Test cricket but only twice have those half-centuries turned into hundreds, and if ever Australia needed triple figures from him, it was this time.

It was the patience of Finn, who peppered away consistently just outside off stump, that did for Watson when he edged to first slip for 57. The inability of Australia's batsmen to capitalise on their starts was all the more frustrating for them given the monstrous scores racked up by England's batsmen, led by Pietersen with his double-century.

Pietersen added 14 to his overnight score but it was enough to beat his previous Test best of 226, which he made against West Indies at Headingley in 2007. He eventually fell caught by Katich at slip, when he misjudged a slog sweep, and it was a consolation wicket for Xavier Doherty, who finished with 1 for 158 and looked nowhere near as threatening as Swann.

England's batsmen scored their runs briskly after Strauss decided against declaring overnight, and in nine overs they pushed the total up by 69 before Strauss called a halt to the innings. Ian Bell had moved on to an unbeaten 68 and Matt Prior was on 27, which guided England to 5 for 620 - their highest Test innings total in 20 years and their fifth-best of all time against Australia.

The visitors would be sorely disappointed if that effort doesn't turn into a win. They'll want a lift from James Anderson, who didn't bowl at his best, while a stomach strain could keep Stuart Broad from playing much of a part on the final day. England can only hope the weather doesn't play any role either.

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