Aussie gamble may let under-par England off hook

AUSTRALIA’S gamble with the weather provided England with encouragement they could still complete an historic Ashes success despite struggling to remain competitive in the deciding Test at the Oval.

Having dismissed England for an under-par 373 before lunch, Australia were progressing nicely with their first century opening partnership of the series to reach 112 without loss as they prepared for a 37-over final session.

But instead of forcing home their advantage Australia instead adopted a cautious approach and accepted an offer of bad light before a ball could be bowled after tea.

With possible light showers forecast for today set to further disrupt Australia’s continuity it was a decision which may yet backfire on the tourists if they run out of time to force home their advantage.

England had resumed overnight on 319 for seven hoping wicketkeeper Geraint Jones, whose 85 had gone a long way to securing victory at Trent Bridge, could steer them close to a competitive score.

Those hopes soon dashed with Jones having his off-stump knocked back in the second over of the day from Brett Lee and Australia sensed an early conclusion to England’s resistance.

But England successfully added a further 48 runs with Ashley Giles spearheading some determined lower order resistance with Matthew Hoggard and then Steve Harmison.

Hoggard only contributed two runs but was at the crease for 46 minutes before chipping McGrath’s slower ball straight to mid-off.

Harmison lifted England’s spirits further by dominating a 28-run last-wicket stand off only 31 balls which was only ended by Warne’s sixth wicket of the innings.

Needing an early breakthrough if they were to remain competitive, England instead struggled to make any inroads into Australia’s mis-firing batting line-up.

Forced to play an aggressive role by Hayden’s loss of fluency, Langer responded superbly and dominated England’s attack.

With Harmison and Hoggard struggling to cause many problems, England’s decision to replace the injured Simon Jones with all-rounder Paul Collingwood was soon exposed with captain Michael Vaughan struggling for answers.

Spinner Ashley Giles was introduced for one over but Langer leapt at the opportunity and came down the wicket twice to hit him for six before claiming a two which enabled him to bring up his third half-century of the series.

In contrast Hayden was unable to take advantage of the good batting wicket and took 81 minutes to reach double figures.

When a chance did present itself, surprisingly, England were unable to take it with Collingwood’s eighth ball being dropped by Trescothick at slip after Langer attempted to cut a ball too close to his body.

By tea, Langer had raced to 75 off 106 balls while Hayden had grown in confidence to reach 32 - just five runs short of claiming his highest score of a disappointing series.

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