Michael Clarke fell agonizingly short of his third century in as many Tests, but helped strengthen Australia’s already dominant position against England at Headingley yesterday as they looked to level the Ashes series at 1-1.
Australia, at lunch on the second day of the fourth Test, were 306 for five — a lead of 204 runs after England collapsed to 102 all out in their first innings.
Clarke was in sight of a century when he was trapped leg before wicket to Graham Onions for 93 off 138 balls with 13 fours, having shared a fifth-wicket stand of 152 with Marcus North that all but doubled Australia’s score.
Left-hander North was 53 not out and wicketkeeper Brad Haddin 2 not out. Australia resumed on 196 for four, a lead of 94, with Clarke 34 not out and North 7 not out.
North set the tone for the session when, off yesterday’s first ball, he punched James Anderson through the covers for four.
Meanwhile, fast bowler Stephen Harmison, recalled in place of the injured Andrew Flintoff, saw his first ball of the day — a short half-tracker — pulled so far in front of square by Clarke the ball went for four to long-on.
England were failing to follow the example of Australia’s Stuart Clark, who had shown how to bowl on a fine pitch for batting on Friday by maintaining a good length and accurate line.
Clarke completed a 78-ball half-century with seven fours.
When Anderson, who suffered a hamstring injury while batting on Friday, did bowl a rare good length delivery, Clarke, on 52, edged the Lancashire quick through the vacant third slip area.
Stuart Broad then saw his first ball of the day, from around the wicket, clipped off his legs for four by North.
Anderson, after an expensive spell of six overs for 34 runs, was replaced.
On came to Graeme Swann for the first stint by a spinner in this match with Australia 264 for four off 59 overs, but Clark, once again showing crisp footwork, went down the pitch to drive Swann for four.
Australia vice-captain Clark, who made 136 in England’s second Test win at Lord’s and 103 not out in the drawn third Test at Edgbaston, got a leading edge to Onions before, in the same over, he missed a ball from the Durham quick that hit his pad and saw Pakistani umpire Asad Rauf raise his finger.
England had repeatedly insisted they could regain the Ashes without either Kevin Pietersen (out of the series after the second Test with an Achilles injury) or all-rounder Andrew Flintoff, ruled out on the first morning with a knee problem.
In their first Test without both star men for nearly six years, however, England were undone by accurate fast bowling by Clark, who took three wickets for 18 runs, and Peter Siddle, five for 21.
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