Clarke takes his second chance
A place on the dressing-room honour board is Michael Clarke's but he would swap it for a Monday miracle after his century was responsible for taking the second Test into a final day. In partnership with Brad Haddin, Clarke's unbeaten 125 dragged Australia to 313 for 5, a total which would normally have the team bouncing with possibilities.
Instead they will re-start with fingers crossed that Clarke and Haddin can negotiate a new ball and then dream of a victory that is still 209 runs away. Australia have the pair to thank for improving their position from horrible to hopeful.
"We've had two players play out of their skins and almost get a 200-run partnership," the coach Tim Nielsen said. "We're very pleased that in adversity the team has been able to have kept fighting."
Clarke slipped on 91 here four years ago and it was one of his great regrets of his first trip to England, his innings ending when he was too ambitious against Matthew Hoggard and was bowled. He knew there were limited opportunities to have his name scribbled across the wall at the game's home and fixed the omission at his next opportunity.
After three of Australia's batsmen had been removed in controversial circumstances, Clarke stepped in and was instantly in control, keeping himself out of the sorts of trouble that could raise the doubts and fingers of edgy umpires. His feet were sharp and eyes focussed, first on taking the match into the fifth day and then seeing what might happen.
Simon Katich and Phillip Hughes exited to nibbles but Clarke was not biting, playing straight and through cover in bringing up his half-century in 58 deliveries. While Australia burned, their vice-captain gained energy from the flames, stroking three offside fours in an over from James Anderson. Nielsen rated the unfinished innings as one of Clarke's best.
"The great thing was that Ricky Ponting, the captain and the leading batsman, had missed out, and Michael went in when the game was very much in the balance," he said. "He scored freely right from the outset and took the initiative away from the England bowlers. He's just getting better and better."
The path from 50 to 100 required a change in pace but, partnered by the attractive Haddin, he kept Australia breathing during his 198-ball display that included 13 boundaries. In the 90s he was fortunate to be facing Paul Collingwood as England waited for the second new ball, flicking a four through midwicket before moving to 99. The delivery after Haddin's half-century, Clarke stepped forward to Graeme Swann and whipped him through the gap between square leg and midwicket for two.
The Australian tradition, started by Michael Slater at this ground in 1993, was followed when Clarke removed his helmet and kissed the badge. It was a less extravagant innings - and celebration - than Slater's 152, the state of the match driving Clarke's method.
Back in 2005 his near miss was the beginning of a slide towards the side's exit the following November, when his youthful streaks had led to starts but nothing significant since his opening month as a Test player. After re-entering the team for the 2006-07 Ashes he has registered nine centuries and 10 fifties in 27 matches to become a pillar in the middle order. His maturity also helped Haddin, who was backing up from a century in the opening match at Cardiff.
Haddin did something he doesn't usually bother about: taking his time. Australia needed occupation and Haddin followed the plan with 80 not out, saving some flashes for the end. Both batsmen need a mixture of determination and calculated risk on the last day if they are to flatten England in the most remarkable way.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo