Australia in tatters
England took a stranglehold on the fourth Test at Trent Bridge as the bowlers ripped out five Australian wickets in the final session to follow up Andrew Flintoff's first Ashes century. Matthew Hoggard was the chief destroyer with three wickets while Simon Jones grabbed one and Steve Harmison removed Michael Clarke with the last ball of the day.
Flintoff's partnership of 177 with Geraint Jones allowed England to post their third consecutive first innings total over 400 in the series and for the third time in succession Australia's batting cracked under the pressure. Hoggard - as yet the one England bowler who has not had a major say on the series - then relished conditions which suited his swing bowling and moved the ball considerably, leaving Australia's batsmen playing around their pads and giving the umpires plenty of work.
Matthew Hayden was the first to go, as Hoggard swung one back into his front pad as he attempted to get outside the line of off stump. Ricky Ponting was then caught on the crease by Jones and things went from bad to worse when Damien Martyn was also given out lbw to Hoggard but there was a suggestion of an inside edge. After his unlucky dismissal in the second innings at Old Trafford, Martyn can again consider himself unfortunate to have been on the wrong end of another rough decision.
Clarke and Justin Langer countered the early wickets with some positive shots but the bowlers were always kept interested by the swing. Langer was tentative about the movement and when Hoggard produced a delivery which swung back and bounced a little he gloved it to Ian Bell at short leg. In the previous over, from Flintoff, he had been cracked on the side of the helmet by a ball that lifted from a length and Hoggard took advantage of his uncertainty - and his ringing head.
Still the Australians refused to shut away their attacking instincts - a marked difference from the ultra defensive attitude Ponting adopted in the field - as edges flew wide and just short of the slip fielders. While Ponting's only answer to England's batting was to post men on the boundary, Michael Vaughan was constantly thinking. His decision to recall Harmison brought the wicket of Clarke, when he was the fourth player to be trapped lbw.
Although Flintoff is the only England paceman yet to take a wicket it was his batting, along with a feisty 85 from Jones, which set up England's commanding position. The pair's partnership was their highest in Tests and recaptured the effervescent stands they produced during England's success last summer. It ensured England posted their biggest first innings total of the series despite Shane Warne performing his usual clean-up operation on the tail.
They added 103 during the morning session and then put their foot down at the start of the afternoon as England aimed to stamp their authority on the match. Runs came at five an over as Flintoff peppered the boundary with an array of rasping shots against an increasingly forlorn Australian attack.
The only bowler Ponting could rely on for any control was Warne and he threw the ball to his legspinner as Flintoff raced towards his century. Then followed a fascinating passage of play as Warne lobbed the ball into the rough trying to tempt Flintoff into a rash shot. But this innings had been the perfect exhibition of how Flintoff has matured as a cricketer. He waited until he was able to clip a ball into the leg side to reach his first Ashes century - and fifth overall - from 121 balls. Flintoff took in the moment by raising his bat to the rapturous applause from the full house.
Such was the cleanness and selectiveness of his strokeplay, a huge innings was there for the taking before he lost some of his control against Shaun Tait, swishing across the line to a ball that would have clipped leg stump. It was revenge for Tait who had been harshly treated by Flintoff when he took the new ball. The slightly ugly shot that ended Flintoff's innings should not detract from what can be considered his most important Test knock.
At the other end Jones reached his own milestone when he passed fifty from 93 balls and two thunderous straight drives off Michael Kasprowicz took Jones into the eighties with a second Test century looming. However, Kasprowicz finally got his man when Jones got a thick inside edge on to his pad, which looped onto the on side and Kasprowicz held a superb low catch in his follow-through.
Ashley Giles followed in the next over, trapped lbw as Warne finally gained some reward for his toil and then he made Harmison look slightly clueless having him well stumped by Adam Gilchrist. Warne again managed to finish with a four-wicket haul when he ended the fun between Hoggard and Jones but once again, even though his own figures turned out to be respectable, England had the runs on the board.
The way in which Warne ran through the lower order confirmed the importance of the Flintoff-Jones partnership, which came together after Kevin Pietersen had fallen early to Lee. However, the entire Australian side felt they should have broken the stand with the first ball after lunch but, not for the first time, Steve Bucknor disagreed and replays suggested Lee had cause for his disappointment. When a team is struggling luck is often one of the things that deserts you.
With every passing day of this series there are more and more signs that this is an Australian team on the decline. Ponting set extremely defensive fields, seemingly only having trust in Warne to keep control over England's batsmen. He appeared a captain short of ideas and short on options as he took up his now familiar head-scratching pose. If he thought he had a headache after the England innings he will now be reaching for the strongest painkillers available.
Kevin Pietersen c Gilchrist b Lee 45 (241 for 5)
Edged a yorker-length awayswinger
Andrew Flintoff lbw b Tait 102 (418 for 6)
Missed a swish to leg
Geraint Jones c and b Kasprowicz 85 (450 for 7)
Attempted drive, well caught low on the leg side
Ashley Giles lbw b Warne 15 (450 for 8)
Plumb after missing a sweep
Steve Harmison st Gilchrist b Warne 2 (454 for 9)
Came down the track and missed
Matthew Hoggard c Gilchrist b Warne 10 (477 all out)
Edged a regulation legspinner
Matthew Hayden lbw b Hoggard 7 (20 for 1)
Plumb to an inswinger
Ricky Ponting lbw b S Jones 1 (21 for 2)
Trapped in front, pad before bat
Damien Martyn lbw b Hoggard 1 (22 for 3)
Same again, but hint of an edge
Justin Langer c Bell b Hoggard 27 (58 for 4)
Inside edge, looped to short leg
Michael Clarke lbw b Harmison 36 (99 for 5)
Struck on the back leg, clipping top of stumps
Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo