England scrape last-gasp draw
England mounted a stirring rearguard to salvage a draw in a sensational conclusion to the opening Ashes Test against Australia.
Resuming on 20 for two in their second innings - trailing by 219 and charged with batting out the final day - England lost three key wickets inside the first hour and a half to slip to 70 for five and raise fears of an innings defeat in Cardiff.
But Paul Collingwood led a defiant resistance effort, hitting a sterling 74 in almost six hours to carry the hosts to the brink of parity.
Although he fell with England trailing by six runs, the last-wicket pair of James Anderson and Monty Panesar survived 69 nerve-shredding balls to establish a lead while denying Australia the wicket they so badly craved.
England were 252 for nine and 13 ahead when the players shook hands shortly after 6.40pm, with Anderson unbeaten on 21 and Panesar seven.
Their unbroken alliance was worth just 19, but it spanned almost three quarters of an hour of the most tense cricket imaginable.
As a pulsating day’s play drew to a close, every leave, every forward defensive, every scampered single and every unsuccesful appeal was cheered to the rafters by another full house, who witnessed the sort of marvellous contest which marked the 2005 series between these sides.
The only minor disappointment for England - if, indeed, there was any after they avoided a defeat that looked all but certain following a calamitous start today - was the fact that Collingwood was not there at the close.
He deserves infinite credit for the application, character and concentration he showed during a 245-ball innings, the true value of which may not be felt until later in the series.
Collingwood shared doughty stands of 57, 32 and 62 with Andrew Flintoff, Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann spanning 23, 17 and 20 overs respectively, before Anderson and Panesar completed the job.
The pattern of Australian dominance was set in the fifth over of the day, when Kevin Pietersen was bowled off stump offering no stroke to Ben Hilfenhaus. Six overs later Andrew Strauss was caught behind for 17 attempting to cut Nathan Hauritz, who then had Matt Prior taken at slip.
None of the England batsman looked comfortable this morning, most notably Pietersen, who came in for intense criticism for his first-innings dismissal - and could reasonably expect to be the subject of much ire in tomorrow’s newspapers had Collingwood and company not intervened.
Pietersen drove uppishly past short extra-cover, edged short of second slip and survived a vociferous lbw shout after being struck on the back leg shouldering arms to Hilfenhaus before he chose to leave a delivery which merely held its line to knock over off stump.
The Australians were in raptures when captain Strauss fell, smartly taken by wicketkeeper Brad Haddin as he chased a second successive cut for four off off-spinner Hauritz.
Prior aimed a handful of airy drives before he became the second of Hauritz's three victims, spooning a catch to a diving Michael Clarke at slip via his gloves after extra bounce and turn persuaded him to abort an ill-advised cut shot.
Collingwood looked likely to join Pietersen and company in the pavilion during a particularly scratchy start to his innings, and it was only after a couple of bat-pad chances landed safely, and the abandonment of his plan to pad Hauritz away, that he began to play with more authority, mostly off the back foot.
Flintoff accompanied Collingwood until lunch, although he too rode his luck after the interval, edging Hilfenhaus through the recently vacated second slip region before clipping him just wide of midwicket.
That stroke brought up the half-century stand, but Flintoff’s doughty innings of 26 came to an end when he pushed forward at a delivery from Mitchell Johnson to provide Ricky Ponting with a low catch at second slip.
Broad spent more than an hour over his 14, making ample use of the outside edge as he attempted to follow Collingwood’s lead, only to be trapped lbw playing back to a Hauritz delivery from around the wicket that straightened a touch.
He therefore missed Collingwood bring up a typically gritty fifty spanning almost four hours and containing five fours.
If Swann, who smashed an unbeaten 47 off 40 balls in the first innings, was expecting to repeat the trick second time around, he was quickly made to think again when he took three blows to the body in one Peter Siddle over shortly before tea.
He was also struck on the helmet by Siddle, but survived to accompany Collingwood for more than an hour. He eventually fell lbw for 31, struck on the back leg attempting to pull Hilfenhaus.
Anderson became Collingwood’s next ally, and they carried England to within one shot of parity as the tension racheted up.
However, just when thoughts began to drift towards a draw, Collingwood’s marathon innings ended in tame fashion. He cut half-heartedly at Siddle, and Mike Hussey palmed the ball up at gully to claim the catch at the second attempt.
Anderson and Panesar sapped the energy out of Australia’s celebrations as they embarked on what will surely go down in history as one of the greatest last-wicket stands in history, Anderson squeezing Siddle to third man to take England into the lead before smothering forward defensive stroke became the order of the day.
Hauritz, whose 37 overs yielded figures of 3-63, was kept at bay despite bowling round the wicket into the rough at the left-handers, while Siddle and part-time off-spinner Marcus North also failed to separate the obdurate Anderson and Panesar.
Bilal Shafayat, the 12th man, made two trips out to the middle with fresh gloves for the batsmen, and physio Steve McCaig also paid them a visit - much to Ponting's annoyance - as the clock ticked on.
With the clock reading 6.43pm and no time left for Australia to bat even if they took the last wicket, Ponting accepted his fate.
The result was greeted by raucous cheers from a crowd which played a not inconsiderable part in England’s fightback, although Anderson settled for a clenched fist and a gentle hug with Panesar. They were the coolest customers around.