England hold nerve in two-run thriller
England pulled off a dramatic victory at Edgbaston, winning by the second narrowest margin in Test history - two runs - to level the series in one of the greatest matches of all time. After a battling 42 from Shane Warne, Michael Kasprowicz and Brett Lee took Australia close in a brilliant rearguard, and when Simon Jones dropped Kasprowicz with 15 runs to go, an improbable win for the visitors suddenly seemed probable. But the other Jones, Geraint, clung on to catch Kasprowicz off Steve Harmison at the death and England had the match in the bag.
They had their hearts in their mouths for much of the morning, though, as Australia's fightback gathered momentum. Nobody had expected this contest would go down to the wire when play resumed with Australia facing a mountainous 107 with two wickets remaining - it would have been the record for a chase at Edgbaston. But they gave the home side much more of a run for their money than they had bargained for.
Warne really gave his side hope with a battling, convincing 42, stuffed with confident, well-timed strokes, and he put on 45 for the ninth wicket with Lee. There were few risks in their partnership, although at one stage Harmison induced Lee's edge only for the ball to fly over the slips.
When Warne trod on his stumps to a Flintoff delivery that was full and going down leg, with Australia still requiring 62, victory was England's for the taking. Australia had other ideas, for the moment at least, and they decided that the best mode of attack was attack. Just as Warne and Lee had, so Kasprowicz and Lee took their opportunities to score and it rattled England.
They refused to be cowed by England's pace attack, while taking a liking to the spin offering of Ashley Giles, collecting 13 off one of his overs. As Kasprowicz was clattering the ball to the boundary, Australia could be forgiven for suddenly thinking that Glenn McGrath's injury wasn't such a bad thing afterall. "Might have been a different story if it had been McGrath batting out there," smiled Ricky Ponting after the match.
England continued to battle hard, with Flintoff spearing in a short ball to Lee which thumped him on the left hand with 20 runs to go. Then, with Australia just 15 runs shy of their target, England thought they had sewn up victory. Flintoff bowled a widish one which Kasprowicz lifted to third man, but a diving Simon Jones could not hold on. His head went down, but only temporarily, although singles were trickling through thick and fast while the tension mounted.
Then in steamed Harmison and Kasprowicz gloved through for Geraint Jones to take a good catch, low to his left. The last pair had added 59 in only 12.2 overs, and in the end Australia fell just short. But the two runs' difference showed just how crucial Flintoff's last-wicket stand with Simon Jones was, and underlined the importance of Harmison's dismissal of Michael Clarke in the last over yesterday.
"We've taken a lot of heart from this," Flintoff told Channel 4 after the match. They gave a lot of heart, too, proving time and again within this cracking Test that they can nail the key moments. "We've got to go to Old Trafford and ensure we play a similar game," added Michael Vaughan, although England's fans of even the strongest disposition will be hoping that the ending isn't so nail-biting.
When asked could England now win the Ashes, the undoubted Man of the Match Flintoff replied: "We've got to!" This was no throwaway soundbite. While the England of old could have easily thrown away this match, today's England showed that they have the stomach to fight. Crucially, the series is still live. Battle will recommence at Old Trafford in four days. Catch your breath while you can.
Justin Langer b Flintoff 28 (47 for 1)
Inside edge on to stumps
Ricky Ponting c G Jones b Flintoff 0 (48 for 2)
Drove at one which swung away slightly
Matthew Hayden c Trescothick b S Jones 31 (82 for 3)
Flashed at widish one
Damien Martyn c Bell b Hoggard 28 (107 for 4)
Drove uppishly to mid-wicket, lazy shot
Simon Katich c Trescothick b Giles 16 (134 for 5)
Wafted at straight one which pitched in the rough
Adam Gilchrist c Flintoff b Giles 1 (136 for 6)
Flicked easy catch to mid-on
Jason Gillespie lbw Flintoff 0 (136 for 7)
Trapped plumb in front
Michael Clarke b Harmison 30 (175 for 8)
Beaten by a brilliant slower ball on middle stump
Shane Warne hit wicket b Flintoff 42 (220 for 9)
Trod on stumps as ball sailed down leg-side
Michael Kasprowicz c G Jones b Harmison 20 (279 all out)
Gloved a bouncer down the leg side
Jenny Thompson is assistant editor of Cricinfo