Clarke carries Australia to safety
England’s chances of engineering an unlikely victory in the third Ashes Test evaporated in the face of sustained Australian resistance at Edgbaston.
Spectators swarmed to Edgbaston this morning, the vast majority relishing the prospect of a stirring final-day assault on the tourists’ batting.
Australia resumed on 88 for two in their second innings - 25 in arrears - and, although two wickets before lunch aroused England’s hopes of an unlikely victory, their failure to take more than one in the remaining two sessions removed any doubt over the outcome of this contest.
Michael Clarke hit a magnificent unbeaten 103 - his second century in as many Tests - while Marcus North fell four short of a hundred, their 185-run stand for the fifth wicket securing a draw in a game Australia could not afford to lose if they are to have any chance of winning the series.
The players shook hands at 5.50pm, Ricky Ponting having delayed his declaration until Clarke had reached three figures following the best part of an hour in the nineties.
Few begrudged Clarke his moment of glory, for he had done more than most to repel an England attack which received precious little assistance from the surface. This may have been the fifth day, but the loss of five sessions to rain in the match meant the pitch remained noticeably true.
Shane Watson and Mike Hussey, who made 53 and 64 respectively, also deserve credit for denying England the early wickets which would have galvanised their push for victory.
They wiped out the deficit within 45 minutes of a fruitless opening hour’s play for the hosts, batting with a huge dose of common sense to prevent what could have been a perilous situation for Australia.
Although Watson was struck on the elbow when he ducked into an Andrew Flintoff bouncer, he looked largely secure, and dispatched two full tosses in an over from Graeme Swann to go to a 113-ball fifty - his second of the match - containing seven further fours.
Hussey had cut Swann through point to take Australia into the lead moments earlier, and punished the off-spinner for dropping short either side of Watson’s dismissal.
James Anderson extracted enough movement off the seam to locate Watson’s edge as he attempted to drive, but Hussey's treatment of the wayward Swann ultimately proved detrimental.
The off-spinner was withdrawn from the attack in favour of Stuart Broad, who angled one in from round the wicket to lure Hussey forward and provide Matt Prior with his third catch of the innings.
England, however, could find no way through Clarke’s defence for the remainder of the day. Having driven Anderson through cover for four in the over after Hussey’s departure, he repeated the feat against Graham Onions early in the afternoon.
A glorious straight drive at Broad’s expense took him past 1,000 Test runs against England, although he was fortunate to see Andrew Strauss spill a sharp chance at short midwicket when, on 38, he laid into a long hop from Ravi Bopara.
If Clarke continued to delight the purists with his orthodox strokeplay and sweet timing, North did not suffer by comparison. He too showed a fondness for the extra-cover boundary, while rarely allowing anything on his pads to go unpunished.
The left-hander was first to 50 - off 90 balls - and Clarke followed him to the landmark courtesy of a misfield from Swann. He had faced 106 deliveries.
The century partnership arrived seconds later and, with the new ball proving as ineffective as the old for England, the disappointment was palpable on the pitch and in the stands.
Neither batsmen was unduly troubled as tea came and went, although Clarke drove Broad uppishly through the vacant backward point region before North struck Bopara for three successive fours.
The pair had already surpassed Australia's previous highest fifth-wicket stand on this ground, the 153 put on by Steve and Mark Waugh in 1993.
North was within one stroke of his second century of the series when he chased a full-length ball from Broad, but succeeded only in edging to gully, where Anderson flung himself high to his right to take a stunning one-handed catch.
The sense that the day belonged to Clarke was reinforced when Broad nipped one back to shave off stump and the bails somehow remained intact. He was on 92 at the time and had added four more when he was caught by Anderson at slip off a Bopara no-ball.
A pull off Bopara two overs later took him to three figures - before Ricky Ponting's signal from the dressing room balcony confirmed the inevitable.