Clarke's class gives Australia the edge
After a first day of scarcely credible twists and turns, the Lord's Test reverted to a more familiar Ashes theme on day two, as Australia's batsmen - led by a brilliant partnership of 155 in 34.3 overs between Damien Martyn and Michael Clarke - ground their way towards an imposing first-innings lead, and a probable victory in this enthralling contest.
But, in the dying overs of the day, England's unquenchable spirit burst forth once again, as four wickets tumbled in nine frantic overs. Australia's overnight lead is a hefty 314 but, on a pitch that no longer harbours the demons of the first innings, England still believe they are in with a shout in this match.
Living up to the 17-wicket bedlam of the first day was always going to be a tough ask, but from the moment England's tail wagged sufficiently to add 63 for the last three wickets, it was clear that batting was no longer the lottery it had been on a crazy first day. The stage, therefore, was set for Australia's batsmen to take the game by the scruff of the neck, and in Michael Clarke they had precisely the weapon to do so.
Since winning the prestigious Allan Border Medal at the end of Australia's domestic season, Clarke has not enjoyed the most profitable of times, and he has been noticeably short of runs on this tour so far. The fact remains, however, that he scored a glorious hundred at Bangalore on his Test debut and followed up with a brilliant 141 on his first home appearance two months later. A debut Ashes century, however, would surely have resonated the loudest, and until impetuosity got the better of him on 91, that prospect seemed the surest bet of all.
Clarke had entered the fray with Australia on 100 for 3, a vast improvement on their first-innings debacle, but a wobbly position nonetheless, given the careless manner of each of the dismissals. Justin Langer was brilliantly run out for 6 by Kevin Pietersen's direct hit; Matthew Hayden under-edged onto his stumps for 34, and Ricky Ponting was suckered by Matthew Hoggard's lack of discernible guile, and flat-batted a lame steer to point.
Another quick breach and England would have been in business. The key moment of the partnership, however, arrived in the final over before tea. Clarke, on 21, was badly dropped by Pietersen at cover - his third miss of the match - and Australia seized the moment as only a team of their self-belief can. Clarke's footwork grew more decisive with every boundary as he raced towards the nineties, while Martyn, batting with grit and understated flourish, hung back in his crease and dropped anchor with his customary sangfroid.
Vaughan held back from re-introducing his big guns, instead allowing Ashley Giles and even Ian Bell a brief opportunity to break the stand, but by now England's fielding was starting to get a bit ragged around the edges, as Hoggard demonstrated by allowing a four to pass straight through his legs at deep mid-on. With shots on both sides of the wicket, but invariably in front of square, the only thing that seemed likely to halt Clarke was his own impetuosity - and so it proved.
Sensing his growing discomfort, England bowled to a rigorous plan. Hoggard stuck to a channel two feet outside off stump, and in his frustration, Clarke over-stretched and inside-edged a wild drive onto his heel and back onto the stumps. One ball later, the oldest truism in cricket was proven once again, as Harmison nipped one back off the seam to pin Martyn lbw in front of middle-and-leg. It was the end of a chanceless and classy sheet-anchor innings from Martyn, who had been a responsible voice in his young team-mate's ear all throughout their partnership. But all of a sudden, England had been given just a glimmer of hope.
England now had their tails up, and back into the attack came Flintoff, whose tight line from around the wicket had accounted for Adam Gilchrist in the first innings. Sure enough, he struck for the second time in the match, cramping Gilchrist for room and plucking his off stump via a faint inside-edge. Flintoff celebrated as if his life had depended on that moment, and a spirited fightback was capped with the last ball of the day, when Shane Warne showcased his unease against Harmison's short ball, fending a fierce lifter to gully.
England had taken four wickets for 24 runs in nine overs, and had ended the day in as rousing a fashion as they had begun. Resuming on a desperate 92 for 7 after Glenn McGrath's first-day rampage, England battled their way to a respectable 155, after deciding that insolence was the best policy. Pietersen showed the way with the bat, smacking McGrath for 14 in three balls - four, six, four - on his way to a debut half-century.
Pietersen eventually fell for 57 to a stunning diving catch on the midwicket boundary, whereupon Harmison and Simon Jones clubbed 33 harum-scarum runs to bring England closer to first-innings parity that they could have envisaged at the start of the day. But, for all Pietersen's undoubted influence with the bat and in the field, that one aberration at cover could yet prove to be his most memorable contribution to his debut Test.
Matthew Hoggard c Hayden b Warne 0 (101 for 8)
Firm steer to slip, parried then gathered one-handed
Kevin Pietersen c Martyn b Warne 57 (122 for 9)
Smeared towards cow corner, fine diving catch inside the boundary
Steve Harmison c Martyn b Lee 11 (155 for 10)
Full and fast, scooped drive to cover
Justin Langer run out (Pietersen) 6 (18 for 1)
Back foot push to cover, quick single, beaten by under-arm shy
Matthew Hayden b Flintoff 34 (54 for 2)
Under-edged pull, flicked off heel onto stumps
Ricky Ponting c sub (Hildreth) b Hoggard 42 (100 for 3)
Flat-footed steer to point
Michael Clarke b Hoggard 91 (255 for 4)
Impatient carve, inside-edge off heel
Damien Martyn lbw b Harmison 65 (255 for 5)
Nipped back and kept low, pinned on back foot
Adam Gilchrist b Flintoff 10 (274 for 6)
Cramped for room from round the wicket, bowled off inside-edge
Shane Warne c Giles b Harmison 2 (279 for 7)
Beaten for pace, fended to gully
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo