England close in on lead as Aussies fight hard

England closed to within 113 runs of an innings lead over fighting Australia on Tuesday, after an engrossing second day of the final Ashes Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

The tourists, chasing their first series win Down Under in 24 years, got off to a rollicking start with a 98-run opening partnership before Australia struck back with three wickets, including the big scalp of Kevin Pietersen.

Michael Clarke’s Australians could have been in an even better position at stumps when they had a crucial fourth wicket taken off them by an umpire’s referral.

At the close, England were 167-3 in reply to Australia’s 280, with Alastair Cook unbeaten on 61 and nightwatchman James Anderson not out on one.

Andrew Strauss and Jonathan Trott were out seven balls apart and Pietersen threw away his wicket on 36 when he was caught hooking.

Debutant Michael Beer was celebrating what he thought was his first Test wicket when Cook, on 45, skied the ball to Ben Hilfenhaus at deep mid-on only for umpire Billy Bowden to ask for the third umpire to check on a suspected no-ball.

The spinner was shown to have overstepped.

Let-off
It was the second time in the series that England had received such a rare let-off after Matt Prior was recalled following a slip catch on five on his way to scoring 85 in the fourth Melbourne Test.

Australia bounced back from the Cook reversal to remove the dangerous Pietersen, when he couldn’t keep down a hook shot off a Johnson bouncer and was caught by Beer at deep backward square.

Hilfenhaus got the initial breakthrough, bowling Strauss for 60 with an unplayable ball that collected his off-stump.

Strauss and Cook put on 98 in 92 minutes with skipper Strauss the aggressor, hammering eight fours and a six off 58 balls.

Trott was out for his first Test duck in Johnson’s next over, getting a thick inside edge on to his stumps.

Earlier, Johnson and Hilfenhaus seized the initiative for the home side after lunch with some lusty hitting in a lively 76-run partnership for the ninth wicket.

In three balls, Hilfenhaus smashed Tim Bresnan for six over long-on and Johnson lofted spinner Graeme Swann into the stands and followed up by coming down the wicket to clobber Swann for four.

Batting pyrotechnics
Their batting pyrotechnics boosted Australia’s score after the home side had teetered at 189-8.

Johnson was bowled by Bresnan for 53 off 66 balls and Hilfenhaus was caught behind off Anderson for 34 from 58 balls.

Up until Hilfenhaus’s and Johnson’s lively cameo, England had held the upper hand with disciplined bowling, claiming the wickets of Brad Haddin, Mike Hussey, Steven Smith and Peter Siddle.

Haddin paid for not using his feet and edged an Anderson outswinger to Prior for six.

Hussey and Smith were tied down by accurate line-and-length bowling and keen fielding before part-time bowler Paul Collingwood grabbed the vital wicket of Hussey.

Hussey got an inside edge off his bat and thigh on to his stumps for a fighting 33 off 92 balls.

Smith was deceived into going after an Anderson outswinger and found Collingwood at slip for 18 runs off 53 balls.

Siddle lasted only four balls before he was snapped up by Strauss at slip for two off Anderson, who finished with 4-66 off 30.1 overs.

England, who lead the series 2-1, outplayed Australia in Adelaide and Melbourne while Australia won the third Test in Perth. The first Brisbane Test was drawn.

England were the last team to beat Australia at the SCG, in 2003. — AFP

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