England v Australia, 5th Test, The Oval, 3rd day September 10, 2005

Hayden, Langer and rain dominate a stop-start day

Australia 277 for 2 (Hayden 110*, Martyn 9*) trail England 373 (Strauss 129, Flintoff 72, Warne 6-122) by 96 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
How they were out

Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden: both made hundreds as Australia pressed ahead © Getty Images
Matthew Hayden ended the biggest drought of his career with a courageous century, and Justin Langer completed a hundred of his own as well, as Australia's batsmen continued to pile on the pressure in their last-ditch attempt to snatch the Ashes from England's grasp. But, for the second day running, the issue was not so much the runs compiled but the time lost to rain and bad light. By the end of a stop-start day in which just 45.4 overs were possible, Australia closed on 277 for 2, still 96 runs adrift of England's first-innings 373.

For the second day running, play ended in unexpected fashion, as Australia's batsmen took an offer for bad light with 5.2 overs still remaining. The subtext was clear. Australia intend to build as big a first innings as possible, and unleash Shane Warne on the final day with eight men round the bat and the entire hopes of a country crushing down on the England batsmen's shoulders.

The day may have been dominated by rain, but it belonged unequivocally to Hayden. After a half-hour delay that set the benchmark for the day's proceedings, he resumed his innings on 32 not out, a performance that had been perhaps the most tortuous of his 71-Test career. By lunch, however, he was growing in confidence on 60 not out, his bullying instincts reawakened by a crunching pull off Steve Harmison's first delivery of the day, and a flogged drive for four off Matthew Hoggard. Tellingly, he had acknowledged neither the crowd nor his team-mates upon reaching his first half-century of the series, and his hundred duly arrived from 218 balls, with a trademark straight drive off Andrew Flintoff.

Rain was a constant annoyance to both players and another capacity crowd © Getty Images
Though the scoreline would not suggest it, England's bowlers remained disciplined and stuck to their guns on a pitch that has remained true throughout. Revelling in the overcast conditions, Hoggard was the pick of England's bowlers in the morning. He should have struck with his first ball of the morning, but umpire Billy Bowden turned down an excruciating lbw appeal with Langer on 75. While Hoggard was probing away, Australia were never able to settle.

Chaotic calling nearly resulted in a run-out as Langer found himself nose-to-nose with his partner at the same end of the pitch, while Hayden also survived a tight lbw call off Hoggard on 41. But slowly but surely, Australia manoeuvred themselves towards a position of potency, with Langer finally securing the hundred that his tenacious batting has deserved all summer, with a steer for four through third man off Harmison.

Langer's innings, however, wouldn't last much longer than that. Only 34 balls were possible in a brief flurry after lunch, but in that time, Harmison rediscovered the rhythm and raucous lift that has eluded him for much of this series. Langer fenced a searing lifter over the slips for four to bring up 7000 Test runs, but in the same over he was gone, bowled off the inside-edge for a gutsy and brilliant 105.

That proved to be the last act of the session. A violent cloudburst drenched the covers and led to a two-hour rain delay, but upon the resumption, Harmison was straight back into his zone, troubling Ricky Ponting with his extra lift and venom, before cramping Hayden with a tight line across his pads. Though he did not add to his wickets tally, he demonstrated that England's resolve would not be buckled, in spite of the mounting tension.

A rare success for England as Steve Harmison bowls Langer for 105 © Getty Images
In previous games, the time would have been ripe for a spell from Simon Jones at the other end, but instead Ashley Giles came on to apply a stranglehold and allow Flintoff to rest up for a burst of his own, as England realised that restricting the runs was of equal importance to wickets. Even so, Giles could have dismissed Ponting for 13, but Bowden this time failed to spot a faint inside-edge on a bat-pad opportunity.

Sure enough, when Flintoff's spell arrived he did not disappoint. With an hour of play remaining, Ponting hadn't banked on Flintoff getting so much bounce from a ball that was now 72 overs old, and jerked his head back in surprise to Flintoff's second delivery, for a diving Andrew Strauss to hold onto a fine catch in the gully. Australia's quest for parity by the close had suffered a big setback, and as a pumped-up Flintoff tormented Damien Martyn's outside edge, they opted to baton down the hatches, and come out fighting on the fourth day instead.

By rights, Australia should be waltzing to victory in this game, and with almost 200 overs still remaining in the match, there is plenty time yet for them to turn the screw some more. But with more unsettled weather in the offing for tomorrow, the players appear to be bracing themselves for the fourth consecutive nerve-jangler of an unforgettable summer. Hayden, unbeaten on 110 at the close, epitomised an Australian team that had regained its composure and confidence. England - and the elements - have their work cut out over the next two days.

How they were out


Justin Langer b Harmison 105 (185 for 1)
Cramped for room, bowled off inside-edge

Ricky Ponting c Strauss b Flintoff 35 (264 for 2)
Surprised by extra bounce, sliced push to gully

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo