Australia captain Ricky Ponting held firm after England struck two early blows in the fifth and decisive Ashes Test at the Oval yesterday.
Australia, at lunch on the fourth day, were 171 for two in their second innings, still needing a further 375 runs to reach their record victory target of 546 in a match where a win for either side would give them the series 2-1.
Ponting, who shed blood in Australia’s cause on Saturday when hit in the mouth while fielding at silly point, was 44 not out and Michael Hussey unbeaten on 31.
Australia’s third-wicket duo had added 81 after they had come together following the early loss of openers Shane Watson and Simon Katich yesterday.
They resumed yesterday on 80 without loss, with Watson 31 not out and Katich 42 not out.
Left-hander Katich had only added one to his score when, padding up, he was plumb lbw to off-spinner Graeme Swann in yesterday’s fourth over.
And three balls later Watson was leg before wicket to a delivery, which hit him on the back leg from first innings bowling hero Stuart Broad, the ball staying a touch low on a wearing pitch.
Ponting, in what could be his final Ashes innings in England, hit back by pulling Broad, in typically forceful fashion, for four.
Hussey was less assured and on 21 edged Swann just short of Paul Collingwood at first slip.
Andrew Flintoff, in his final Test before retirement from the five-day game, was roared in by a capacity crowd but was unable to dislodge either Ponting or Hussey.
England consolidated on Saturday the advantage they’d gained after dismissing Australia for just 160, with Broad taking five for 37, thanks to a second innings score of 373 for nine declared that featured a century on Test debut from South Africa-born Jonathan Trott, who made 119.
England captain Andrew Strauss’ declaration left Australia needing to break the record for a successful Test fourth innings victory chase of 418 for seven set by the West Indies against Australia in Antigua in 2002-2003.
Defeat would leave Ponting with the unwanted record of becoming the first Australia captain in over a century, since Billy Murdoch, to be in charge of two losing Ashes tours of England following his side’s 2005 reverse.