Warne magic rocks England
Simon Katich starred with the bat, and Shane Warne and Brett Lee with the ball as Australia steered themselves into a commanding position on the third day at Lord's. Katich's 67 lifted Australia to a hefty lead of 419, before Warne and Lee took five wickets between them to reduce England to 156 for 5 by the close.
But, as has been the way in this match of twists and turns, Andrew Strauss and Marcus Trescothick had given England a glimmer of hope, with a solid start to their chase. They put on 80 for the first wicket, before Strauss's dismissal induced a collapse and England lurched to 119 for 5 under pressure from Warne and Lee. Kevin Pietersen once again added some stability, though, and by the time light brought an early close he was unbeaten on 42, in sight of his second half-century in his debut Test. But Australia are by far the team in the ascendancy and England still require 264 runs, with just five wickets left.
Katich made sure it was Australia's day with a gutsy half-century before falling just after lunch for 67. England made early inroads in removing Lee for 8, but otherwise it was all Australia, with firstly Jason Gillespie and then Glenn McGrath offering vital support to Katich, who was in supreme control in what was an important innings as Australia smashed the psychological 400-barrier. The last two wickets added a valuable 95 runs. Katich's innings was watchful and accumulative and timed to perfection, while Gillespie played bravely, defending stoutly for 52 strokeless deliveries. Together they added 52.
But England will be kicking themselves for dropping three more catches today - that's seven in the match - before finally removing Australia for 384. The home side had started the morning with high hopes of killing off the tail under grey skies, and when Ashley Giles' direct throw from gully dismissed Lee their own tails were up. Steve Harmison had been raining down blows on Lee, rapping him on each hand - the second of which struck Lee's bowling finger and Lee paused to think about the damage before setting off to the non-striker's end. This split-second reflection cost him when Giles' bullet-fast shy beat his full-stretched dive.
Harmison, who had begun the day in ominous mood, continued to go after the tail after Lee fell: he then aimed for Gillespie's head, shoulders, knees and toes. But Gillespie weathered the storm until Simon Jones came on and bowled him.
Jones should have had him earlier, with the score on 333, but Geraint Jones parried the ball downwards with one glove. It was a rare blemish in what has been an impressive summer behind the stumps, but he erred again to grass a chance off McGrath. And it was third time unlucky for Jones S when even Andrew Flintoff's bucket hands appeared to have sprung a leak as he put down a waist-high dolly at second slip.
Jones, though, shrugged off these mishaps to turn catcher and end Australia's innings when Katich lofted a short ball from Harmison straight to third man. Australia may have had the better of the morning, but England came back strongly in the afternoon, firstly wrapping up the tail and then Trescothick and Strauss added 65 without loss before tea.
Australia's pace bowlers were their usual menacing selves in their reply, but England's openers played patiently and with more attacking intent than in the first innings, battering the bad balls to the boundary. Trescothick nicked Lee just short of the slip cordon for three to bring up the fifty partnership, but otherwise there were few alarms early on, and they saw off McGrath comfortably. But a bigger danger was lurking: Warne.
Ever threatening, Warne (and his team) appealed loudly for one which came back savagely - and another the ball later - but Trescothick was unmoved; quite literally, he offered no shot to either, padding up to them both.
It was Strauss who fell first: his battling stand coming to an electrifying end on 37 shortly after tea when Lee fired in a short one and Strauss fended it upwards for the bowler to sprint and sprint and eventually hold a great low return catch. Trescothick soon followed, Warne picking up a much-deserved wicket after he had Trescothick in all sorts of trouble. Aleem Dar had turned down several worthy lbw shouts against Trescothick but there was no arguing with the eventual dismissal - a fine edge to Matthew Hayden at slip off a slider. Another slider, another wicket: this time Ian Bell was trapped plumb.
This brought Pietersen to the crease, and he promptly played and missed his first ball. Such is his wont, he dispatched the next ball for four, a crack through point. Yet it was Australia who were turning the screw and picked up a further two wickets as England's hopes for this match were fast fading. First to fall was the unconvincing Michael Vaughan who played down the wrong line to Lee, then Andrew Flintoff followed, backing away to give himself room to a wideish one from Warne.
His wild slash resulted in an edge through to Adam Gilchrist and at 119 for 5, England were in the mire. Pietersen, though, returned the fire that Lee provided. In a heated exchange of play, he smote Lee into the stands at mid-wicket, before Lee floored him with a full toss that looked to be heading towards middle stump. The finger remained down and Pietersen went on to strike 42 from 54 balls at a time when Australia's bowlers were bowling to their very best, a testament to just how well he has been batting. He will have to do the same again tomorrow - and more - if England are to salvage anything from this match. Australia are scenting victory.
Brett Lee run out (Giles) 8 (289 for 8)
Fended short ball to gully, tried to scramble single but direct throw
Jason Gillespie b Jones 13 (341 for 9)
Beaten outside off stump by perfectly pitched awayswinger
Simon Katich c S Jones b Harmison (384 for 10)
Looped catch to third man
Andrew Strauss c & b Lee 37 (80 for 1)
Toe-ended short ball upwards for sprinting return catch
Marcus Trescothick c Hayden b Warne 44 (96 for 2)
Feathered straight one to first slip
Ian Bell lbw Warne 8 (104 for 3)
Left a straight ball, trapped plumb
Michael Vaughan b Lee 4 (112 for 4)
Played down the wrong line, castled
Andrew Flintoff c Gilchrist b Warne 3 (119 for 5)
Slashed at one outside off stump, feathered edge through
Jenny Thompson is assistant editor of Cricinfo