England needs six wickets on the last day to win the second Ashes cricket Test after Kevin Pietersen reached a career-best score and removed Michael Clarke to have Australia struggling to avoid defeat at 238-4.
England dismissed Simon Katich, Ricky Ponting and Shane Watson yesterday after declaring its first innings at 620-5 in Adelaide. Clarke and Mike Hussey held up the victory push with a 104-run stand before Pietersen, who earlier top-scored with 227, dismissed Clarke in the last action of the day.
Australia’s hopes of avoiding defeat may rest with the weather. The Bureau of Meteorology forecasts showers and thunderstorms today.
“In an ideal world we probably would have them eight or nine down but it’s not an ideal world and we’re facing a very resilient Australian team,” England spinner Graeme Swann, who took two wickets, told reporters. “Clarke’s their best player of spin and to get him out like that was magic.”
The Australians, bowled out for 245 on day one, still need another 137 runs on a wearing Adelaide Oval pitch to make England bat again as they try to avoid going 1-0 down in the best-of-five contest. England holds the Ashes following last year’s 2-1 series triumph in the U.K.
A victory in Adelaide -- where England declared its first innings at 551-6 four years ago before losing the match -- would leave the touring team needing one win from the remaining three Tests to be sure of retaining the trophy.
After a 57-minute delay in the last session because of bad light and rain, Clarke and Hussey raised Australian hopes of saving the match and heading to the third Test in Perth with the series tied at 0-0.
“If we can draw the match, England will see it as a loss so that’s got to drive us on,” Hussey told reporters. “We’ve certainly been outplayed, no question, but if we can get away with 0-0 it will be a great result for us. A little bit of rain would help, that’s for sure.”
Hussey, who top-scored for Australia with 93 on day one and made 195 in the drawn series opener, resumes on 44. Marcus North, the remaining specialist batsman in Australia’s lineup, is yet to face a ball.
“We’ve opened one end up which is important,” Swann said. “We’ve got North coming in there’s a lot of pressure on him now and then we’re only a couple of balls away from the bowlers. If we can get Hussey early with the new ball it’s going to be fantastic.”
Australia’s openers took the score to 84-0 before Swann dismissed a hobbling Katich, caught behind for 43, and Ponting for 9 as Paul Collingwood took a low two-handed catch at slip. Watson brought up back-to-back half-centuries before edging a Steven Finn ball to England captain Andrew Strauss when on 57.
Clarke successfully appealed against being given out caught off Swann’s bowling when on 67. The Australian vice-captain immediately referred the decision for video review, which showed the ball missing the bat.
After reaching 80, he wasn’t let off again when he clipped the second ball of the last over off his thigh to Alastair Cook at short leg. Umpire Tony Hill initially declined the appeal for a catch against Clarke, though the review gave occasional bowler Pietersen the wicket and brought play to a close.
“We’re going to have to keep fighting hard,” Hussey said. “It was a bit of a kick in the guts to lose that one in the last over.”
Strauss called a halt to England’s first innings in the morning session following a 41-minute spell in which the batsmen added 69 runs off 54 balls.
England, which only lost the wicket of Pietersen for his highest Test score of 227, has amassed 1,137 runs for six wickets in its last two innings in this series.
Pietersen, resuming at 213, smashed spinner Xavier Doherty’s first ball of the day for four to bring up England’s fourth straight century partnership in Adelaide.
The right-hander passed his previous best score of 226 against the West Indies in May 2007, then got out caught at slip trying to slog a Doherty delivery.
Ian Bell and Matt Prior maintained the run-scoring spree by adding an unbeaten 52-run partnership off 34 balls. Bell finished 68 not out, with Prior on 27.
England’s total, following its 517-1 declared in the drawn series opener in Brisbane, was its second-highest in Tests on Australian soil behind 636 at Sydney in 1928-29.
“We’re confident, we’ve played some very good cricket since day four in Brisbane,” Swann said. “If we can turn up and continue in that vein then we are in the box seat.”
Paceman Ryan Harris was the standout Australian bowler with 2-84 from 29 overs as Doherty, Doug Bollinger and Peter Siddle all conceded more than 100 runs.
Australia was bowled out on day one after winning the toss at a ground where it’s lost once in the past 15 matches. It was the home team’s worst performance in the first innings at Adelaide since 1993.