England mount recovery

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Matthew Hayden & Steve Harmison

Mattthew Hayden edges a wide Steve Harmison delivery to second slip © Getty Images

England's seamers launched a spirited fightback just as Australia's batsman looked set to put them in control of the final Test and on course for an Ashes whitewash.

Dismissed for 291 after they lost their last six wickets for 45 runs in Sydney, England faced another first-inning deficit as Australia progressed to 100 for one.

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But England battled back on a pitch offering assistance to seam and spin bowlers, Steve Harmison claiming two wickets to reduce Australia to 155 for four.

That had become 188 for four by the close of play, Mike Hussey and Andrew Symonds steadying the hosts’ nerves to leave the game evenly poised after an absorbing day’s cricket.

Australia's reply had been given a flying start by Justin Langer, who hit 26 off 27 balls in his final Test before he was caught off a glove down the leg side off James Anderson.

That seemed only a minor setback as Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting shared a second-wicket stand of 66 spanning only 16 overs.

However, with tea in sight, Harmison struck to claim his first victim, having Hayden caught by Paul Collingwood at second slip as he chased a wide long hop.

Andrew Flintoff & Ricky Ponting

James Anderson's direct hit accounts for Ricky Ponting

The key wicket, though, was that of captain Ponting, who fell five runs short of a half-century four overs after the interval when Anderson was rewarded for some sharp fielding.

Ponting pushed left-arm spinner Monty Panesar to mid-on and set off for a quick single, only to be beaten by Anderson's direct hit at the non-striker’s end.

Harmison made further inroads into Australia's powerful line-up, who are chasing the first Ashes whitewash since 1920-21, when he persuaded Michael Clarke to chase a short, wide delivery and edge behind just before rain halted play.

That was to be England’s last success as Hussey, employing judicious stroke selection, and Symonds, in typically aggressive style, saw Australia to the close without further mishap.

England resumed the second day at the SCG on a comfortable 234 for four, hoping to post only their fourth total above 300 in the series.

But, despite captain Andrew Flintoff's courageous 89, the tourists’ lower order was swept aside.

Andrew Flintoff

Andrew Flintoff works the ball off his legs in his immensely valuable 89 © Getty Images

Flintoff and Collingwood survived the first nine overs of the day with the new ball overnight until the latter edged Glenn McGrath behind after adding only two to his overnight 25.

Three overs later Brett Lee, who had consistently beaten the bat with late swing all morning, got one to climb on Read, who could only feather a catch to wicket-keeper Adam Gilchrist.

Lee dismissed Sajid Mahmood next ball, a short delivery which took the leading edge and looped to Hayden at gully, and Harmison was struck on the toe in front of middle stump by Stuart Clark after contributing two to an eighth-wicket stand of 24 with his skipper.

Flintoff, running out of partners and keen to reach his century quickly, edged behind as he charged Clark to give Gilchrist his fifth catch of the innings, a fine effort tumbling to his right.

It came as no surprise to Australia to see Flintoff finally emerge from his struggles with the bat, McGrath admitting: “We always knew he was capable of it, as we saw in the last series in England.

“We were just trying to get it in the right areas.

“The fact that ‘Freddie’ was batting with the tail meant we focused more on getting him off strike - but he played well.”

Panesar, dropped before he had scored by Langer off Clark, was trapped lbw sweeping at Shane Warne five overs later to give the legendary leg-spinner his 1,000th wicket in international cricket.

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