Trott leaves Aussies needing miracles
Australia will need to smash Test records if they are to stop England from reclaiming the Ashes in the decisive final Test at the Brit Oval.
Using Jonathan Trott’s maiden Test match century as their bulwark, England thrillingly blazed Australia’s ragged bowlers to all parts in a second-innings total of 373 for nine declared.
Andrew Strauss’ declaration arrived upon Trott’s dismissal for 119, leaving Australia a target of 546 to win the fifth Test.
In the history of Test cricket, no side has ever successfully chased more than 418 to win in the fourth innings.
In keeping with a wonderful Test match, Australia took a positive approach to this huge ask, closing on 80 for no wicket.
Aside from three wickets either side of lunch, England were rarely thrown off-course as they set about building an unassailable lead.
When Strauss was dismissed for 75 in the final over before lunch, Andrew Flintoff (22 from 18 balls), Stuart Broad (29 from 35), Graeme Swann (63 from 55) ensured that runs came too quick for Australia to control.
Having begun the day on a potentially tricky 58 for three, Strauss and Trott accumulated runs at ease and added 99 together before lunch in a stand of 118 for the third wicket.
On a turning pitch, their relative ease against Marcus North made folly of Australia’s decision to leave out their only frontline spinner, Nathan Hauritz.
Having correctly survived Peter Siddle’s vociferous shout for lbw to the first ball of the day, Trott brought up the fifty partnership with a pull to the fine-leg boundary.
Strauss began to open his arms after reaching his fourth half-century of the series, striking two successive cover drives off Stuart Clark. They were shots that until recently he seemed to have removed from his armoury.
Ricky Ponting turned to part-time spin from both ends before lunch in an attempt to force a rash stroke - and after a near-miss, Strauss attempted a square drive and was caught by Michael Clarke at slip.
The flip-side to Ponting’s strategy had been apparent two balls earlier, when Clarke’s short ball allowed Trott to carve him for four and bring up his maiden Test fifty, compiled from 89 deliveries.
Trott lost Matt Prior upon the resumption, when Katich threw down the stumps at the non-striker’s end to a misjudged single.
The stage was set for Flintoff to sign off from Test cricket with a typically belligerent innings, but it was to be a curtailed swansong.
After settling down from a rapturous welcome in Kennington, Flintoff carved his second ball to the midwicket fence. His standout boundary was a terrific pull off Siddle.
But having escaped a leading edge off Mitchell Johnson’s first ball, he top-edged North to deep midwicket for 22.
Broad took a liking to North - in the course of the same over he twice struck the off-spinner over the top, and also carved him to deep square-leg. On 29, Broad hit straight up in the air in the search of more runs.
The wicket changed little, with Swann striking five boundaries before tea, taking England’s tally for the session to 133.
Swann then embarked upon an even more withering assault, unfurling a glorious punched cover drive off Siddle.
After edging a tough chance to Ponting at slip, Swann brought up his third Test fifty. He had hit nine boundaries when he miscued a pull off Ben Hilfenhaus to Brad Haddin. He contributed 63 to a stand of 91 with Trott.
Swann’s huge hitting allowed Trott to take his time over his hundred. The Warwickshire batsman eventually guided Hilfenhaus behind square for two, to become the 18th England batsman to reach three figures on Test debut.
More pertinently, it was only England's second century of the series.
No-one would have castigated Strauss for declaring there and then, but the England captain elected to wait until a tired Trott carved Clark to point, whereupon the lead was an almost unthinkable 545.
Australia had 20 overs to negotiate in the evening, and they gave the impression of a side who reckoned their best chance of saving the Ashes was to attack the target, rather than flat-bat.
After a couple of hair-brained singles that yielded run-out chances to Ian Bell, Watson decided to pull anything short and defend fuller balls stoutly.
The right-hander survived three strong appeals for lbw caught on the front foot. In one Steve Harmison over, he escaped with the faintest of inside edges onto the pad.
Katich, the more fluent of the two, did well to drop his hands when edging Broad in the next over.
Katich closed on 42 not out, within sight of a second half-century in the game. Watson was unbeaten on 31.
Despite their admirable resistance, convention dictates against an Australia win. The highest successful fourth-innings chase to win on this ground is a mere 263 for nine, made by Archie MacLaren’s England in the 1902 Oval Ashes Test.
West Indies hold the Test record, when they made 418 to beat Australia on the flattest of tracks at the Antigua Recreation Ground in 2003-04.
It would also require a task greater than the record first-class fourth-innings chase - the 513 for nine scored by Sri Lankan side Central Province in the same winter.
Please note: there are London Underground weekend engineering works that may affect your journey to the Brit Oval on days 3/4 of the Test - for the latest information see the Tfl website