Australia kept waiting

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Ian Bell

Ian Bell watches the ball intently as England frustrate Australia © Getty Images

Australia moved closer to regaining the Ashes with two late wickets from Glenn McGrath putting them in sight of a comfortable victory in the third Test.

McGrath struck twice in three balls just two overs before the close to remove centurion Alastair Cook and nightwatchman Matthew Hoggard to leave England struggling on 265 for five at the close of the fourth day.

Until McGrath’s late breakthroughs, the tourists had dominated most of the day with Cook hitting a defiant 116 and sharing in a crucial 178-run partnership with Ian Bell and a 76-run stand with Kevin Pietersen.

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Resuming the fourth morning a daunting 537 runs adrift on 19 for one, many observers expected the tourists to slide towards another comprehensive defeat and hand the urn back to Australia.

But, rather than capitulating, England lost just two wickets in two and a half sessions, Cook hitting a century and Bell making 87 to help their team fend off the Australia attack.

England began the day knowing if they batted out the remaining two days, they would stand a good chance of making history by becoming the first team to chase over 500 and win a Test.

Bettering West Indies’ record fourth-innings total of 418 for seven, against Australia at Antigua three years ago, may have appeared far fetched at the start of play.

Indeed, England’s first mission in the morning was to survive the spells of fast bowler Brett Lee and veteran seamer Glenn McGrath, which Cook and Bell did without any great alarms.

Alastair Cook

Alastair Cook makes the most of an opportunity to move the score on © Getty Images

Neither the pace of Lee nor the guile of McGrath was sufficient to make the early breakthrough, with Cook and Bell looking to play positively.

They seized on loose deliveries to notch early boundaries and it took a double bowling change by Australia captain Ricky Ponting to start causing the batsmen a few headaches.

Stuart Clark, Australia’s best bowler in the series, replaced McGrath 12 overs into the morning and straight away caused Bell to play a false shot which was edged short of the slip cordon.

Warne looked equally threatening in the next over and beat Bell with a fiercely-turning leg-break, but it did not prevent the Warwickshire batsman hitting him over the top for a four and then a six to bring up the 50 partnership.

Bell continued in impressive fashion, driving Warne for a straight six and then swatting the next ball through the covers to take him past 50.

Cook followed after the interval, bringing up his first half-century of the series with his seventh boundary, to further dampen Australia’s hopes of wrapping up victory on the fourth day.

Bell was reprieved on 73 when he edged a full-length Lee delivery but wicket-keeper Adam Gilchrist was unable to hold on to a difficult one-handed effort, diving to his right.

Glenn McGrath & Ian Bell

Glenn McGrath looks on as Ian Bell frustrates Australia on day four in Perth © Getty Images

However, just as Australia, and Warne in particular, were beginning to show their frustration, the leg-spinner made the breakthrough, beating Bell in the flight and inducing a meek drive which found only Justin Langer at short extra-cover.

Paul Collingwood spent almost 13 overs making five, and Clark put him out of his misery when he induced an outside edge courtesy of a full-length delivery which held its line.

Kevin Pietersen accompanied Cook to his hundred - his first against Australia - and a half-century stand for the fourth wicket further cheered the England supporters.

Cook battled for over six hours at the crease, hitting only nine fours, and appeared to have put England in position to chase a record victory target - particularly with Pietersen at the other end.

Only 10 minutes before the close, however, Cook pushed forward to McGrath and edged behind and two balls later Hoggard’s off-stump was sent flying out of the ground with a superb yorker.

Captain Andrew Flintoff survived the final few overs with Pietersen, who finished unbeaten on 37, but England’s focus will now be on survival and trying to avoid surrendering the Ashes to Australia on the final day.

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