Warne and Gillespie save the follow-on
At the close of play last night, the momentum of this series seemed finally to have passed across to England. Today, however, they were frustrated once again, first by rain, which delayed the start of play until 4pm, and then, ironically enough, by sun. In the 14 overs that were wrung out of the bad weather at Old Trafford, Shane Warne's attacking strokeplay and Jason Gillespie's forward defensive allowed Australia to escape what could have been their first follow-on since 1988, as Warne recorded his 11th Test fifty.
When asked about the follow-on, Duncan Fletcher said that England would have chosen to bat again anyway, but such talk proved academic as Warne carried Australia to safety in the first spell of eight overs with the long-haired limpet Gillespie clinging to his task and offering valuable support. Australia received a small boost from the scorers, too.
They started the day needing 35 to avoid the follow-on but before a ball was bowled this was reduced to 31 when it emerged Steve Bucknor hadn't signalled a four from a no-ball yesterday. It didn't matter much where the follow-on was concerned, as Warne carried them well past the mark and on towards his first Test century. He was unbeaten on 78 by the close, and if he does pass his highest score to date, 99, it will be richly deserved. But he will also have Geraint Jones to thank, for reprieving him twice on a frustrating day for England.
Jones missed a stumping off Ashley Giles when Warne was on 55, then he followed up by spilling a sitter in the setting sun off Andrew Flintoff. Both bowlers were magnanimous; Giles shrugged his shoulders and Flintoff consoled him with a big friendly giant of a paw. But the keeper is in need of some marvellous medicine this match - which makes that catch at Edgbaston all the more incredible - and England's coach was forthright afterwards. "You don't want to miss any chances at this level, and there have been one or two," Fletcher noted. "He will have to make sure he's got the courage to handle that."
Courage was certainly in abundance for Warne who continued to attack as he had on the second day and showed again that he is not just there for Australia's good times, he is a man for a crisis, too. Warne can lift them all right and, fittingly, he chose the aerial route with the bat when the covers came off late in the afternoon, passing fifty with two, straight crisp fours off Giles.
Coming down the pitch to Giles nearly cost him, though, but Jones snatched at a big ripper and the opportunity was gone. Soon, too, was England's chance of enforcing any follow-on, as Warne and Gillespie stuck manfully to their task, their contrasting styles complementing each other. Warne wielded the willow, while Gillespie was dogged in defence, applying a staunchly straight bat to anything that the bowlers had to offer.
It was a similar story ninety minutes later after more rain had come and gone, when the sun burst through the clouds to allow a final mini-session of six overs. Once more Warne launched Giles, once more Gillespie defended, and once more Jones missed a chance.
This time the error came when a hostile Flintoff delivery found Warne's outside-edge which Jones could only grass against the backdrop of a harsh sun which was beginning to sink as fast as his mood. But credit must be given to Australia's batsmen today, and one man in particular. Jones may have been dazzled, but Warne had played a blinder.
Ian Bell c Gilchrist b Lee 59 (346 for 6)
Top-edged an attempted hook
Andrew Flintoff c Langer b Warne 46 (433 for 7)
Straight down to long on
Geraint Jones b Gillespie 42 (434 for 8)
Beaten by a fuller, quicker ball
Ashley Giles c Hayden b Warne 0 (438 for 9)
Regulation edge to slip
Simon Jones b Warne 0 (444 all out)
Huge drive, bowled through the gate
Justin Langer c Bell b Giles 31 (58 for 1)
Bat-pad, one-handed grab at short-leg
Ricky Ponting c Bell b S Jones 7 (73 for 2)
Rising delivery took shoulder of bat, looping catch to point
Matthew Hayden lbw b Giles 34 (82 for 3)
Played back, ball hit him outside off stump
Simon Katich b Flintoff 17 (115 for 4)
Left alone, demolished off stump
Damien Martyn b Giles 20 (129 for 5)
Pitched leg, hit off
Adam Gilchrist c G Jones b S Jones 30 (182 for 6)
Outside edge, low catch
Michael Clarke c Flintoff b S Jones 7 (197 for 7)
Beaten by a slower ball, drove straight to mid off
Jenny Thompson is assistant editor of Cricinfo