Second capitulation spells the end
In the space of 44 frenetic balls on the second evening in Leeds, England squandered all hope of saving the fourth npower Test.
England had moved without fuss to 58 for no loss, in a valiant attempt to whittle away some of the 343-run deficit they conceded to Australia on first innings, when, from successive balls, Ben Hilfenhaus swept the floor from under their feet at Headingley Carnegie.
Hilfenhaus, fast becoming Terry Alderman reincarnate, removed Andrew Strauss for 32 and Ravi Bopara to a first-ball duck, both lbw.
It was the cue for English indecision and some fearsome Australian fast bowling. England needed to batten down the hatches in the remaining half an hour, but instead produced a reprise of their first-innings capitulation.
In all, England lost five wickets for 20 runs, and were left floundering at 82 for five at the close, still 261 runs away from making Australia bat again.
Strauss could hardly be blamed for his dismissal, beaten by a fine Hilfenhaus delivery that nipped back and had him lbw. Bopara went in the same fashion next ball, though not without a discernible inside edge onto his pad.
Nine runs later, Ian Bell edged a renewed Mitchell Johnson to Ricky Ponting at slip, and Paul Collingwood collapsed to a Johnson inswinger and was hit in front.
Of the five, Alastair Cook (30) was beaten by the best ball, a Johnson outswinger that he followed behind.
England sent out a nightwatchman, James Anderson, but instead of letting him have the strike, they almost lost the last recognised batsman to the final ball of the day.
Marcus North committed the only faux pas of an otherwise picture-perfect day, when he dropped Matt Prior at slip from a needless waft outside off stump.
North was all watchfulness before tea, carrying Australia to a position of almost unfettered dominance.
The Western Australia left-hander batted through 57.1 overs from start of play to reach 110, when his dismissal, caught at deep midwicket by Stuart Broad, ended the Australia innings at 445.
Australia began the day on 196 for four, and Clarke was not keen on wasting time.
The Australia vice-captain flogged a woefully short Steve Harmison through midwicket for fours in successive overs, and drove Anderson handsomely through cover.
A pushed single brought up Clarke’s fifty, his 15th in Tests, compiled from 78 balls. Having edged Anderson through a vacant slip, his only wrong move of the first hour, Clarke responded by driving sweetly for four from the next ball.
Amid the flurry of runs – 49 came from the first eight overs – Strauss switched Harmison to the Kirkstall Lane end. But that experiment was ended after one over when Clarke milked him for 10 runs.
The introduction of Swann allowed England to re-establish a semblance of control, and he did induce an edge from North which fell just short of slip. But Clarke, so adept against spin, simply advanced down to hit Swann over cover.
North had brought up a quiet fifty, from 117 balls, when he lost his partner in the next over.
Clarke had already been lucky to escape the third ball of the 73rd over, delivered by Graham Onions, when his leading edge fell in between short cover and mid-off. Two balls later, he played outside the line of Onions’ inswinger and was trapped in front.
Clarke’s wicket signalled the end of a stand of 152 for the fifth wicket between he and North, an alliance now all-too familiar for England.
The same partners added 143 together in the first Test at Cardiff, and their 185-run partnership last week snuffed out England’s hopes of a victory at Edgbaston.
No sooner had Clarke gone and lunch been digested, that England struck again. Harmison was handed the ball from the Rugby Stand end, and forced Brad Haddin to miscue a hook to Stuart Broad at leg slip for 14.
But North had no intention of letting the innings drift. He flayed Onions for successive fours when he drifted wide. For good measure, when Onions produced three better balls, North flat-batted them all back in an almost pre-conceived fashion.
At the other end, Johnson grew in confidence, and hung around long enough to swipe a couple of lusty blows himself.
He went for 27, caught at deep midwicket by Bopara off Broad. The batsmen crossed while the ball was in the air, but when the strike returned from North, Peter Siddle’s off-stump uprooted by Broad for a first-ball duck.
If England sensed a quick conclusion, they had not reckoned on Stuart Clark, who had total freedom to play his shots, and dominated a ninth-wicket partnership of 46.
The number 10 hit three mammoth blows. His first six, off Swann, was picked up by the working builders above the sightscreen at the Kirkstall Lane end. The second and third, off consecutive Broad deliveries, were pulled emphatically into the members’ stand.
But he let North have his moment too. The senior batsman had been content to let Clark throw his bat, but once into the nineties, he was not going to hang around.
Out for 96 at Edgbaston, North showed real bravado to reach his hundred here with a slog-sweep for six off Swann into the members’ stand.
Clark eventually played on to Broad. But with 32 from 22 balls, all semblance of a workable total had long since diminished.
England's only solace from a wretched day was the qualified resurgence of Broad, who took the last four wickets to end with 6-96, his best Test figures.