At Nottingham, August 25, 26, 27, 28. England won by three wickets. Toss: England. Test debut: S. W. Tait.
The law of averages demanded a dull draw after the showstoppers at Edgbaston and Old Trafford, but this was a series in which the usual laws did not apply. By the time Giles and Hoggard scampered the winning runs on a sun-kissed Sunday, both teams - both nations - had been put through the wringer once more.
But now England were ahead, a point not lost on the home supporters. "What's the score, Glenn McGrath, what's the score?" they chanted at the 5-0 predictor on the Australian balcony. He responded with another forecast, holding up two fingers on each hand, but the gesture seemed poignant. Not only was a 2-2 draw the best Australia could still hope for; McGrath himself had now missed two Tests in the series, both lost. This time, it was down to wear and tear to his right elbow. In his absence, and with Gillespie no longer trusted, Australia recalled Michael Kasprowicz and awarded a first cap to Shaun Tait, a 22-year-old speed merchant from South Australia whose slingy action prompted English observers to draw uneasy comparisons with Jeff Thomson.
England were unchanged for the fourth Test in a row, and their air of solidity was reinforced when Australia lost a crucial toss on a benign pitch. Ponting then watched in dismay as his bowlers made a mockery of what their coach John Buchanan described as a "zero-tolerance policy" on no-balls, overstepping 18 times in the 27 overs before lunch, which England took at 129 for one. The sole casualty was Strauss, who swept Warne to slip via his right boot - the only foot the openers put wrong all morning. Rain permitted only 20 deliveries (including another no-ball) between lunch and tea, after which Trescothick's fluent 65 was ended by a full inswinger from Tait, who quickly added a tentative-looking Bell, caught behind: Gilchrist's 300th Test dismissal. Vaughan repaired the damage, but he nibbled outside off stump to give Ponting his first Test wicket of the 21st century and, at 213 for four, England were in danger of conceding the initiative.
Pietersen went early next morning, but the game turned on a partnership between Flintoff and Geraint Jones that was a study in contrasts: the lumbering giant and the nifty urchin; the bully and the pickpocket; the front-foot driver and the back-foot cutter. What they shared was urgency, and they added 177 at high speed. Australia were convinced Jones had edged Lee on 34 first ball after lunch, but otherwise it was oneway traffic travelling in fifth gear. When Flintoff tucked Warne to leg for a single to complete his fifth Test hundred, from only 121 balls, Trent Bridge erupted. Moments later, he aimed across the line against Tait and the fun was over, but the stand had deflated the Australians and ushered England to a third successive first-innings score of 400 for the first time in nearly 19 years of Ashes cricket. Jones fell 15 runs short of three figures, and Australia were left with a session on the second evening in which to chip away at England's 477.
Instead, the breaches came from the bowlers. Hoggard located his away-swinger for the first time in the series in an 11-over burst of three for 32, and Harmison undid Clarke in the last over of the day, as he had at Edgbaston. Both Ponting and Martyn were given out lbw to balls they had edged, but the nicks were imperceptible to the naked eye and could not detract from the truth: Australia were being outplayed again. The sense that the force was with England was confirmed on the third morning, when Strauss dived full stretch at second slip to hold on to Gilchrist's edge, before Simon Jones, hostile and incisive, cleaned up to take five for 44. Not even Lee's hard-hit 47 could prevent Australia from following on for the first time since Karachi in 1988-89.
Still, at 155 for two second time round, they were progressing smoothly. Then Martyn called Ponting for a single, only to see his captain beaten by a direct hit from the covers. Ponting's fury at losing his wicket at a crucial stage was compounded by the identity of the fielder: Gary Pratt, a 23-year-old batsman who had not played a firstclass game for Durham all summer, was substituting for Simon Jones, who had limped off with an ankle injury. Pratt's presence on the field was thus legitimate, but the Australians had objected to England's constant use of substitutes, apparently to rest their bowlers, and Ponting vented his feelings towards the England balcony on his way to the pavilion. The outburst would cost him 75% of his match fee. More immediately, his side's momentum was checked. When Martyn feathered Flintoff two overs later, Australia were still 98 behind with six wickets left.
What followed was the most attritional passage of batting in the series yet, as Clarke and Katich added 100 - only Australia's second century stand in four games - in 48 overs to wipe out England's lead. But Hoggard persuaded Clarke to nibble at the second new ball just before lunch on the fourth day, before becoming the first seamer to win an lbw appeal against Gilchrist in his 72 Tests. Harmison mopped up with three wickets, including Katich, who was furious when his 262-minute vigil was ended by a poor lbw decision from Aleem Dar. His all-too-obvious displeasure (he conducted his argument with spectators) earned him a 50% fine, and England were eventually left needing an awkward 129.
At 32 without loss after five overs, they were coasting. But cricket has never had a scene-stealer - not even Ian Botham - who could match Warne. He removed Trescothick and Vaughan with the opening deliveries of his first two overs, then snared Strauss at leg slip in his fifth to make it 57 for three. When Bell hooked Lee to long leg without addition, the talk was of Australian revenge for Headingley 1981. As on the Sunday morning at Edgbaston and Monday afternoon at Old Trafford, news from Trent Bridge began to savage the peace of a warm August English Sunday. Then Pietersen and Flintoff, against type, calmed everyone's nerves by adding 46, but Lee had Pietersen caught behind with the first ball of a new spell and in his next over bowled an incredulous Flintoff with a beauty that proved Australia could produce reverse swing, to tremendous effect. With 13 still needed, Geraint Jones spooned Warne to deep extra cover. England were down to the bowlers.
The anxiety was not confined to the spectators. As Hoggard trooped to the crease, Giles provided a cheerless assessment of Lee's bowling: "He's reversing it at 95 miles an hour." Somehow, though, the runs came in dribs and drabs: Giles kept out Warne, Hoggard handled Lee. Catharsis arrived when Hoggard drove a Lee full toss to the cover fence to take England within four runs of their target, and victory was secured in the next over when Giles clipped Warne through midwicket.
With more support for Lee and Warne - Kasprowicz and Tait bowled six wicketless overs for 43 between them - Australia might have won. Instead, it was England who celebrated a result which ensured that, for the first time in nine Ashes series, they would not be on the losing side. Could they now take the one last step towards the Ashes?
Man of the Match: A. Flintoff.