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August 2, 2009
Dismissal of the day
On Friday, Ricky Ponting became Australia's leading run-scorer in Test cricket, but today he was stitched up a treat - bowled through the gate by a perfectly pitched ripping delivery that hit middle-and-leg from outside off. The delivery came moments after Ponting had survived a desperately tight lbw appeal, and if Graeme Swann doesn't claim another wicket in his Test career (which is unlikely), he can die happy after one of the most special moments an offspinner can ever hope to produce. Michael Vaughan, who bowled Tendulkar through the gate at Trent Bridge in 2002, was so content with that moment he picked up just six wickets in his entire Test career. Admittedly, the single biggest weakness in Ponting's career has come against conventional finger spin, with Harbhajan Singh a regular tormentor. It is as peculiar in its own way as Graham Gooch's failings against medium-pace, but right now, Swann won't be concerning himself with such minutiae.
Momentum-seizer of the day
And of the series for that matter. For the third time in three Tests, Matt Prior's arrival at the crease was the moment that England dispensed with the dawdling and indulged in some serious momentum-seizing stroke play. His 41 off 59 balls may have ended with a limp pull to mid-on, but it set the tone for what followed. He cracked six fours in his stay and added 89 in 15.3 overs with Andrew Flintoff, as England's run-rate vaulted from 3.1 per over to a final figure in excess of 4. Prior has now made 180 runs at 36.00 in the series, but it is the speed of his scoring that really catches the eye. His strike-rate of 87.80 is more than 10 runs quicker than any of Australia's players, and more than 25 runs quicker than anyone else in England's top six.
Swinger of the day
On the second day of this match, England's bowlers (in particular James Anderson) found prodigious quantities of swing to rout Australia in their first innings. Second-time around, however, they struggled to bend the ball to quite such devastating effect, much as they had struggled in a truncated 30-over session on Thursday. Perhaps it's a peculiarity of the thirty-something ball, because when Ben Hilfenhaus picked up the attack for Australia in the 37th over today, he hooped it all over the shop from an immaculate full length, and claimed two key wickets in his first 14-over spell - the overnight mainstay Andrew Strauss for 69, and Paul Collingwood, who drove three outswingers for four in a single over, but then snicked his next attacking stroke to second slip.
Confrontation of the day
Mitchell Johnson's 20th over had absolutely everything. Fifteen runs, a wicket, stand-offs between both batsmen and the bowler, and a cauldron of chanting and abuse from a fully pumped-up Edgbaston crowd. It was a passage of play in which the remaining niceties between the teams were emphatically launched out of the dressing-room window. The flashpoint came from a slashed four by Graeme Swann that flew clean over the slips - an enraged Johnson followed up with a no-ball bouncer, and a volley of choice invective that Swann was all too happy to reciprocate, as too was Stuart Broad, backing up his mate from the non-striker's end. A guided four through backward point brought Johnson to boiling point, and though Swann lost his personal duel as Johnson came round the wicket to have him caught tamely at cover, Broad kept the fury pumping with a blatted back-foot four that scorched down the ground - a shot that concluded with the two parties nose to nose at the non-striker's end.
Cameo of the day
Broad's belligerence was a timely reminder of the qualities he brings to the side. His returns with the ball this series have been mediocre, with too many occasions on which he's failed to fulfill either a holding or an attacking role. But the selectors have nevertheless persevered, largely because they believe he is made of the right stuff. Today's thumping innings of 55 from 64 balls was further proof of his all-round potential (even though "potential" shouldn't really be the deciding factor in Ashes selection). It was his fourth half-century in 20 Tests, and carried his average above the 30 mark. If he can now start to haul his bowling average below 40, that potential might start to reach fulfillment.
Throwdowns of the day
Shane Watson came into this contest with a reputation as an more-than-useful third-change seamer - in fact, in a perversely English selectorial decision, it was his ability to support the besieged Mitchell Johnson with the ball that earned him the chance to open the batting in place of Phillip Hughes. But it was clear from his first three overs that his Test bowling is a touch rusty, having not played in a five-day match since November. There is nothing that Flintoff likes more than a driveable full length, especially early in an innings, and that is exactly what Watson served up. Three times in nine balls he was thumped mercilessly through the line by Flintoff, who had rushed from 9 to 33 by the time the three-over experiment was shelved.
Third strike of the day
Ian Bell's record against Australia is, by his own admission, the weakest aspect of an international career that has spanned five years and is now just three matches shy of 50 Tests. It is, however, inching in the right direction. Today's effort of 53 was more than double his previous average against Australia of 25.10, and moreover it was his fifth half-century in six consecutive Ashes Tests. Nevertheless, it was still another broken promise of a performance. The quality of his cover-driving, particularly in the midst of his duel with Johnson, was sublime, but having survived two excruciatingly tight lbws in the course of his innings, he could not convert his luck into anything more substantial. Johnson pitched it full and straight again, and even Rudi Koertzen couldn't find a reason to refuse the third appeal.
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