Australia face 'ultimate challenge'
Andrew Flintoff’s classy hundred and a handful of late wickets at Trent Bridge left world number ones Australia facing the "ultimate challenge" in their quest to hold onto the Ashes.
Australia resume the fourth npower Test on Saturday on 99 for five, a whopping 378 runs in arrears, after England enjoyed their most dominant day of the series to date.
It is a situation which Australian vice-captain Adam Gilchrist concedes his team are not accustomed to but one which they must counter if they are not to slip 2-1 behind with one to play.
“England are doing to us what we have done to other teams over a number of years,” said Gilchrist. “We haven’t come out of it very well so far, we have hung in there and again we are under pressure.
“Mentally it is a different area for us to be in and that is pretty taxing but we will keep fighting.
“We certainly didn’t under-estimate England but they have continued to show the world, not just us, that they are a very good and very dangerous cricket team at the top of their game.
“With that in mind we realise it is the ultimate challenge for us and we are under pressure. But we are not bad cricketers, we have proved that for a long time, so the belief is still there.
“There is still lots of life there and a long way to go but all the momentum is still with England.”
Gilchrist will walk out to face what he believes is the most complete attack of his career in the morning, having struggled to replicate his outstanding return over six years at the top level.
“I have probably not faced an attack in the form they are in as a group, working together and hunting as a pack,” Gilchrist added.
“We have had some pretty special bowlers up against us over the years but all round this is a big challenge for us and there is no shame in saying that.
“For me it is a difficult scenario in which to walk in but I have to get the mindset right and be as natural as possible.”
Matthew Hoggard claimed a triple strike to add to the English position of strength and centurion Flintoff paid tribute to the team’s all-round attributes.
“We have different bowlers for different conditions and probably this one suited Hoggy more than the others,” Flintoff said. “The ball has swung and he’s put it in the right areas.
“Different people get wickets at different times and I think that’s the good thing about the bowling attack - we bowl for each other and we’re happy with each others’ success.
“One of the good things about this side and what’s made us successful is different people sticking their hand up when it’s needed.
“Today it was myself and Geraint Jones scoring runs and Matthew Hoggard taking wickets, but it’s different people performing when something’s required.”
Flintoff and Jones (85) shared 177 runs for the sixth wicket, the biggest stand of this summer’s campaign for either side.
Flintoff’s fifth Test hundred was as good an innings as he has produced in his 51 appearances and continues his recent success with the bat in this series after a slow start.
But it was met with a muted celebration which contrasted sharply to the reaction of the 15,500 crowd.
“I tend to stick my bat up and take my helmet off and grin,” admitted Flintoff. “It’s probably afterwards in my hotel room or at dinner that I will have a big smile, punch the air and say ’get in there’.
“I feel I’m getting into some sort of form after I struggled early on in the series. At Edgbaston I went out there ultra-positive and hit the ball well and at Old Trafford something clicked when I got that 40-odd.
“I managed to get my feet in the right positions again and played more like a batsman and I think that showed today.”
A four-day family break in the south of France also helped the 27-year-old Lancastrian relax prior to what could prove to be the pivotal match of the summer.
Having pushed England to the brink of victory on home turf in Manchester, it was an ideal time for Flintoff to escape the glare of an expectant public.
“I got away from the Ashes for a few days,” he said. “Around Manchester it’s pretty tricky to do that so I went to France - they’re not bothered about the Ashes there!”