Ashes Cricket News 29/12/02
Report By Jon Cocks
For the best part of five hours on Day Four England (387) fought hard to resist the Australian push to victory, only for the tail to wilt in the final session, when it needed to wag for at least another two hours. The pitch remained fairly true for batting and the slender victory target of 107 was smaller than any of Australiaís low fourth innings run-chase failures.
At last, on the fourth morning, England clearly won a session in the Test, the architect being Michael Vaughan, who added 78 to his overnight score in a brilliant exhibition of strokeplay, especially square of the wicket, against all bowlers.
Cuts, square drives, pulls forward and behind square abounded and superb touch with the ones and twos all around the wicket featured in his valiant rearguard action.
The reduced fourth-day crowd on a warm overcast morning at the MCG gave him a deserved standing ovation when he reached his hundred, and, ominously, he went straight back into run-compiling mode, gradually whittling the deficit.
The wicket continued to play truly and the Australian bowlers were starting to look a little concerned as to the whereabouts of the next wicket. Then McGrath, wicketless to this point, held back a beautifully disguised slower one to completely fool Hussain (23), who could only spoon it back to the bowler.
Undaunted, Vaughan continued to mount his score, with Robert Key a committed ally, watchful in defence and working hard to settle in to anchor the innings, which he did successfully until the lunch break. England continued to work hard in the middle session of Day Four, adding 2-115 and perhaps shading a tiring Australian lineup.
Despite losing the admirable Michael Vaughan not long after the break for a magnificent 145 from 218 balls, with 19 fours and three sixes, the visitors' middle order continued to build partnerships, wipe away the deficit and go to tea with a lead of 45 with five wickets in hand.
Vaughan looked to be capable of anything on the resumption from lunch, jumping down the wicket to loft MacGill over long off for six. He swept the next ball for four more, causing MacGill to come around the wicket and find the edge for Love to take his third slips catch in Test cricket.
Picking up the slack form where Vaughan left off, Robert Key became animated enough to sweep, drive and cut MacGill for boundaries. He followed it up by hooking Lee for a four and then played the up-and-under over slips for another boundary, as England didn't so much creep up to the Australian total as rocket past it, with Key raising his fifty.
Steve Waugh came on and hit Key on the pad to a huge Australian appeal, but the ball was slipping down leg. The new ball was taken and Lee took the first over, getting a little outswing.
Drinks were taken and Gillepsie resumed from the Southern Stand End, breaking through with his first delivery, an outswinger. Key (52) slashed without footwork and the edge flew to Ponting at third slip.
MacGill was back at the Southern Stand end before too long, as Crawley and the injured Craig White looked to build another partnership. Vaughan's heroics aside, England succeeded in the first two sessions of Day Four, because of the partnerships that were built.
Two or more wickets falling in rapid succession did not occur. Vaughan and Hussain added 80, Vaughan and Key added 67 and Key and Crawley added 51. The pitch continued to favour the batsmen and light showers fell to dull the new ball a little.
By tea, Crawley (29*) and White (16*) had added a further 35 for the sixth wicket, although White was sliced in two by a superb McGrath off-cutter and was dropped by Love at first slip off MacGill, a ball that clipped the tips of Gilchrist's gloved fingers.
The third session was the one in which a tiring Australia reasserted its dominance in the series, capturing 5-51 to dismiss England for 387 and an overall lead of just 106. Stuart MacGill stood up grandly, bowling almost unchanged from the Southern Stand End for both England innings.
Despite McGrath (19-5-44-1) leaving the field for stiffness in his lower back and Gillespie struggling with minor injury niggles, the hosts had enough in the tank, despite being in the field for their seventh straight session, to manoeuvre England into a position not far from checkmate on stumps at Day Four.
The first half-hour after tea laid the foundations for ultimate victory, as MacGill and Lee (27-4-87-1) restricted Crawley and White to just eleven runs. The breakthrough occurred shortly afterwards, when Lee came around the wicket to Crawley (33), who chopped the ball onto his stumps, ending a 55 run partnership.
Almost immediately, MacGill found the thick outside edge and White (21) walked, while Gilchrist was still coming down from the vociferous appeal for his 150th Test catch. The two quick wickets that Australia wanted fell with the total on 342.
Dawson (15*) was surrounded by two slips, silly point, leg gully and forward short leg, but he drove for one to get off the mark, dangerously close to Bichel at mid off. MacGill continued tirelessly, tossing them up on a good line, as Foster and Dawson tried valiantly to nudge the lead closer to three digits.
Then Foster (6) went to late cut MacGill (48-10-152-5), who came at him around the wicket and Martin Love took in both hands a really sharp chance that flew high and hard to his right, hid fourth slips catch capping off an excellent Test debut. He also saved four byes that Gilchrist missed by diving full-length to his left to grasp the errant ball in his outstretched left hand.
Caddick (10) sought to emulate his agricultural bladework from the first innings, managing a couple of useful blows, including one drive through covers for a boundary from a tired Gillespie. However, he succeeded only in popping MacGill's worst ball of the match, a wide long hop, to Waugh at cover.
Steve Harmison (7) got away with a couple of heaves over cover from Gillespie (25.4-6-71-3) for a boundary and a three, much to the joy of the Barmy Army. However, Dizzy had the last laugh, making a mess of the big Durham paceman's middle and off stumps with a ball that would have done the same to batsmen of far better pedigree.
MacGill led the players off the field after his marathon performance, during which he sent down 84 overs, almost unchanged for a seven-wicket match haul and just the second five-fer for the series. Hayden and Langer knocked eight from the victory target in an over each from Caddick and Harmison, leaving 99 to get on the last day to keep the Baggygreen-wash dream alive.