Vaughan leads England defiance but Australia set for another win
It could be said that England are getting better. Not getting the better of Australia, for they are still facing defeat, but they have at least managed to take this fourth Test into the fifth day. Having been bowled out for 387 in their second innings, largely thanks to an innings of 145 from Michael Vaughan, they set Australia 107 to win. By stumps, eight runs had been knocked off that target without mishap.
With Vaughan on his way to his second hundred of the series and passing Sachin Tendulkar's aggregate number of Test runs in 2002 (the Yorkshireman now has 1481), England enjoyed a good morning. Nasser Hussain was in obdurate mood. Raising English hopes of an epic rearguard action to force a draw, he displayed impressive resolve while his partner scored more freely.
Vaughan was the dominant partner during an 80-run partnership for the third wicket. He opened his account for the fourth morning by driving leg-spinner Stuart MacGill for a straight four - one of nine he stroked in the session as he reached his sixth hundred of the year from 153 balls. MacGill's bowling appeared to be entirely to Vaughan's liking as he helped England add 63 runs in the first hour of something that has been all too lacking in this series - a genuine contest of Test match cricket.
Hussain's defiant innings of an hour and a half came to an end when he was out-thought by Glenn MacGrath. Failing to spot the slower ball, he pushed it straight back to the bowler to be caught and bowled for 23.
Vaughan found a new ally in Robert Key who again showed that he has the temperament for Test cricket. This pair kept the momentum going by adding 67 before Vaughan's splendid innings came to an end. After Finding little difficulty with MacGill in his four and a half hour stay at the crease, he tried to late cut and steered the ball straight to Martin Love at slip to be out for 145.
Key reached his first fifty in Test cricket, but having done so fell to the seventh delivery with the new ball as he edged Jason Gillespie to Ricky Ponting at slip.
John Crawley and Craig White continued to offer resistance, adding 55 for the sixth wicket before a resolute innings from Crawley ended when he played on to Brett Lee for 33. That was the signal for the Australian attack to pour through the breach as England suffered their customary collapse by losing their last five wickets for the addition of 45 runs in 16 overs.
In the next over, White was caught behind cutting MacGill. James Foster went in similar fashion, except that he was superbly caught by Martin Love at slip. MacGill claimed his fifth wicket when Andrew Caddick drove him straight to Steve Waugh in the covers before Steve Harmison was bowled by Gillespie to bring the innings to a close on 387, their highest total of the series, leaving Richard Dawson not out on a valuable 15.
The target of 107 is no more than nominal for such a strong batting line-up. Had England managed to have taken a couple of wickets in the two overs before the close, a few feathers might have been ruffled but they did not and now only a day's rain or the most unimaginable turn of events can prevent Australia taking a four-nil lead into the final Test.