Aussies back into Ashes contention
Resurgent paceman Mitchell Johnson has produced a show-stopping performance as an irrepressible Australia closed in on a record thumping of England at Headingley.
Marcus North (110) and Ben Hilfenhaus (2-37) pummelled England before Johnson (3-21) set about finishing off the job and levelling the Ashes series at 1-1 in the fourth Test.
Needing to score 343 to make Australia bat again, England were in dire straits at 5-82 in its second innings at stumps on day two with Matt Prior (4) and James Anderson (0) unbeaten.
Johnson’s performance completed a stunning form revival considering his erratic performances had jeopardised Australia’s Ashes campaign in the second Test loss at Lord’s.
England were still 261 runs behind in Leeds and have some work to do to avoid their worst Test defeat on home soil.
The biggest previous loss was by an innings and 226 runs against the West Indies in 1973 at Lord’s, their worst home Ashes defeat being by an innings and 180 runs at Trent Bridge in 1989.
Australia came into this match a bit like the Headingley ground, under construction.
But they have turned an England side missing Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff to rubble.
North earlier swatted spinner Graeme Swann for six to bring up his century in spectacular fashion as Australia mounted an imposing 445 in response to England’s 102.
The left-hander went down on one knee and launched the off-spinner into the crowd over the midwicket boundary before removing his helmet and yelling out: “You beauty”.
In reply, England lost 5-20 in 44 balls late in the day starting with Hilfenhaus trapping captain Andrew Strauss (32) and Ravi Bopara (0) in front in consecutive deliveries.
There were some question marks over the latter’s dismissal and the No.3 has now scored 105 at 15 for the series.
Ian Bell (3) and Paul Collingwood’s (4) dismissals were much more clear cut as Johnson started exposing England’s middle order.
The left-armer had opener Alastair Cook (30) caught behind and then had Prior dropped off the final ball of the day by North at third slip.
Taking the pressure off Johnson by removing him from new ball duties has seemed to have worked as he steamed in and importantly had the ball tailing back in at the right-handers.
As the players left the field at the end, the players parted for Johnson to walk off first but he stopped and pushed North in front of him.
North said Johnson deserved the plaudits.
“All players have their ups and downs and we know he’s had a difficult month, but showed great signs at Edgbaston,” he said.
“Great to see a guy getting the rewards he deserves.”
But North said there was still work to be done.
“We have still got five wickets to get,” he said.
“The game is not in the bag just yet we have to apply ourselves to create a few more opportunities tomorrow.
With the tourists eight down earlier on and having made 96 at Edgbaston just five days ago, North took matters into his own hands on the same score with a cross bat swipe.
No.10 Stuart Clark (32) then produced some shots of his own for the highlights package, launching Swann for a towering straight six and then pulling paceman Stuart Broad (6-91) for consecutive sixes in the next over.
Broad deservedly collected career-best figures by knocking over the tail after having stemmed the bleeding late on day one.
The right-armer paid credit to the Australians.
“They’re a very talented side,” Broad said.
“You’ve got five or six players who average over 50 with the bat and they’ve got some talented quick bowlers.”
Michael Clarke (93) earlier missed out on his third century in as many Ashes Tests at Leeds, his sparkling innings ending just before lunch.© AAP 2013
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